Friday, February 28, 2014

Tsarina by J. Nelle Patrick

by J. Nelle Patrick
Read: January 9 - 11, 2014
February 27, 2014 by Razorbill
Source: Gift from publisher in exchange for an honest review. 
Category: historical fantasy, Russian revolution, YA

Find: Goodreads | Amazon

Goodreads Summary: 

Natalya knows a secret.
A magical Faberge egg glows within the walls of Russia's Winter Palace.
It holds a power rooted in the land and stolen from the mystics.
A power that promises a life of love for her and Alexei Romanov.
Power, that, in the right hands, can save her way of life.
But it's not in the right hands.

Note: Infinite thanks to Wendy Darling for encouraging me to pick up this book. Historical fantasy has become my new go-to genre, and Tsarina is definitely a favorite within that category. 


When I was in tenth grade, my best friend and her mom and went to see the exhibit: Nicholas and Alexandra, The Last Imperial Family of Tsarist Russia. I remember the carriage and the clothing, the eggs, opulence and even the abdication letter. But mostly, I remember an overwhelming feeling of wonder coupled with an extraordinary sadness surrounding the family and entire exhibition. Through the power of storytelling, Tsarina has brought it all to life for me again. 

Sixteen year old Lady Natalya Kutepova is the daughter of a Russian military leader, and unashamedly a White - a supporter of the crown. She is used to lavish parties and grand living. But most importantly, she is in love with emperor Nicholas' oldest son Alexei, and he very much with her. Both of them also love their country completely and desperately. That is why Natalya cannot fathom the angry Revolution trying to wage outside. 

One evening at a party, while the Reds protest at the gates of the Winter Palace, Alexei shows Natalya a secret Faberge egg. The egg has been imbued with the magic of the mystics and has the power to keep Alexei healthy from his dangerous Hemophilia and protect the Romanov family and those they love from harm. It is what has allowed them to continue to secure their power amidst so much unrest. 

But then the egg vanishes after the Red's raid the palace, and the Romanov family is captured. Natalya must enlist the unlikely help of a palace worker named Leo to get it back. Together, with Natalya's Countess friend Emilia (possibly an even more unlikely companion for a rescue mission), they journey through St. Petersburg and across Russia to find the egg. As Natalya watches her beloved country fall into revolution, she realizes that nothing is as perfectly Red or White as she'd first imagined. 

Tsarnia is not an attempt to re-write history. But the wonder of historical fantasy for me, is its ability to capture the spirit of a time, and bring it to life in vivid detail while also presenting a story that is fresh and entertaining. This book is a success on all accounts. It is not a history lesson. But in many ways it is better than that, because of the way these words seek to capture the complex imagery and emotions of the time, and enable readers to live them as well. It doesn't hurt that the words in this book are so beautiful it's painful at times. 

Natalya's tale made me desperate to see Russia for myself or at least take a class on its history. It was impossible not to fall in love with this country through her eyes, because, in many ways, that is what drives her and the relationships she develops. Reading this book, I felt both incredible heartbreak about the Romanov family and destruction of so much of the Russian culture, but also, an understanding of why the people of the country sought for change at the time that they did. That struggle is what defines Natalya's journey throughout this book. Tsarina came out yesterday and I recommend you pick it up today. 

Two Wishes:

1) I wish we'd gotten to spend a little more time with Alexei in the beginning of the book before the Winter Palace raid. I think it might have helped me connect a bit more to Natalya's personal emotions later in the story. However, I do love him so, even if Tsarina's version of him is 3 years older than his true historical incarnation. 

2) I wish the end was a bit less rushed. A lot happens at the last 40 pages of this story, and some things left me a little bit confused and definitely wanting more. I also wasn't as interested in the mystic Maria storyline throughout the book, though it definitely picks up by the end. However, I was also pleasantly surprised about how the book concluded as well. It was more hopeful than I imagined, especially considering the sadness that surrounds this period in history. 

Love Triangle Factor: It's complicated/Mild - This is one of those times that I wish I didn't rate these. I don't want to share too much and spoil this story, but I enjoyed how the romance plays out. 
Cliffhanger Scale: As far as I know, this is a standalone, though the end leaves some open questions and the possibility for more


  1. Even if there is a triangle, to know that you enjoyed how the romance played out is a good thing! I'm definitely looking forward to reading this one -- I had a roommate in college named Catherine who thought she was Catherine the Great (*eyeroll*) and we went to a Russian exhibit because of it. Very cool.

  2. This sounds really good, I don't think I'd heard of this one. Love that it's a stand-alone, love that it's about the Romanov family, and to know that you enjoyed how the romance played out...will definitely be reading this one. Great review! ~Pam

  3. Well you've got me super curious about this complicated love triangle situation, but I know if you're happy with the way the romance played out, then I likely will be as well. I can't wait to read this! I had the pleasure of visiting St. Petersburg and learning a lot about the Romanov family last September, so I think this will be a fun read for me. Fantastic review as always!

  4. I love what you said about the spirit of the time, Lauren, as that's why I enjoy historical fantasy as well. I'm excited to read this - hopefully soon! - and though the Love Triangle Factor has me a little worried, I'm confident I'll appreciate the romance as you were able to too. Fantastic review, dear - we'll have to compare notes on this once I get around to reading it. :)

  5. I've been so curious about this book, Lauren and since I adore historical fiction, I think I might enjoy this. The writing sounds absolutely wonderful.
    What I love about books is that you get to experience different worlds through these different characters and historical Russia sure sounds like an interesting place.
    I'll admit that your comment on the love triangle scared me a little, but I'm still going to give it a shot, especially since you mentioned the romance works out in the end.
    Lovely review, Lauren.

  6. I'm always intrigued by novels that incorporate history into their stories, and it's even better when it's RUSSIAN history (as that's one of the histories and cultures I've been fascinated by since I was younger). I'm happy to read that you enjoyed Tsarina, and that you would recommend it! I've been anticipating it since I first of its existence, and am pretty darn pleased that it's good.

  7. I was supposed to write/post my review last Friday, but I had some internet issues and it never happened. But now I am KICKING myself because I want to read your review! Booo. I am SO glad that you enjoyed it, though--I knew you would! And I promise to be by your GoodReads review when I've had a chance to write mine to see what you thought in more detail.

    Wendy @ The Midnight Garden

  8. Fabulous review, friend! I agree with you about the great perks of historical fantasy--I loved being swept up in that turbulent period of Russian history--but I also love all the liberties that Patrick took to make this story not just a chronicling of the October Revolution and the fall of the Romanov's but something completely her own. And yes--I would have liked a little bit more detail on the final chapter, an epilogue might've worked nicely here--but overall I'm very pleased with how the book wrapped up. Glad you enjoyed the book as much as me and glad we got to talk it through a little after we finished reading:)

  9. This sounds awesome! I just recently heard about this and I was debating about whether or not I should pick it up. The setting sounds amazing, although it's too bad the ending is kind of rushed. Great review! :)

  10. love the story behind Romanovs and I.. It's really one of the few things other than Ivan IV and Puškin and a few other historical things I actually liked learning about in our Russian classes and history classes in HS. I'm not a big history fan, but the fact that this makes it all look better and is more than just a historical book makes me really, really intrigued to give it a go. I don't know if I'd purchase it for myself, but if it's ever translated into Estonian I wouldn't mind checking it out in a library. I'm sorry it wasn't a perfect novel in your eyes, but I'm so glad you enjoyed it so much. Also, haha. I'm glad you're doing the love triangle factor even if you cannot always say everything out loud :D


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