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