Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Cuckoo Review: Tsarina by J.Nelle Patrick

   First off, I just want to say that I'm a Romanov buff. From my childhood watching the Anastasia animated film, to my tween years reading fictional diaries of Anastasia, to making the leap to nonfiction. Two of my favorite biographies are Julia P. Gelardi's accounts of the Romanov women. I also wrote my sophomore research paper (Hi Ms. de Guzman, if you're reading this!) on the Romanov dynasty, all 300 years of it. With all of that, I like to think I'm somewhat qualified enough to judge whether Tsarina was a good piece of historical fiction.

It was not.

   Right from the off, I had my qualms about this book. I love historical fiction, and usually don't mind when the author adds a little magic or sparkle to change up history. The summary of Tsarina, though, had me fidgeting. Not only was the protagonist a fictional character who never actually existed, but the plot revolved around a Faberge egg that supposedly had powers that kept the Romanov family safe. Umm.

   So many things were wrong with the book. Let's start with the factual information. First off, Alexei was thirteen when he died, but in the book, it is assumed that he has long been carrying on a flirtation with Natalya, the protagonist. Who, by the way, is seventeen. I'm pretty sure that's a statutory crime nowadays. The book never truly went into detail on why Natalya was chosen to be Alexei's intended. Although this might be nitpicking, I just want to add that in reality, Nicholas & Alexandra (Alexei's parents) married for love, and extended the same courtesy to all five of their children. They probably would never have arranged a marriage for Alexei, and certainly not at the tender age of thirteen. 

   Second, all throughout Tsarina, Natalya refers to the Russian city as St. Petersburg. The book is supposedly set around 1917-1918, but in 1914 St. Petersburg was renamed Petrograd because of anti-German sentiment during World War I. Like, couldn't the author be bothered to check this fact? Again, this could come off as nitpicky, but it just seems like sloppy work.

   J.Nelle Patrick also writes the book as if 20th century Russian history is common knowledge. What if the readers weren't too aware on what went down during the Russian revolution? What if they didn't know who Rasputin was? What if they didn't even really know who the Romanov family was? Who in the golly heck is Lenin? I think that with 300+ pages, she could've at least set down some exposition. She could've delved deeper into the Romanov background, and perhaps why the Russian people so badly wanted to revolt.

   What makes me even more ticked off is at the end of the book, the author's note says she did a lot of research for the book. Really. Really now. Somehow I, the most gullible person on earth, have a hard time believing that.

   Side note: I then also found out that J.Nelle Patrick was none other than Jackson Pearce, who is a popular YA fairytale reteller. I must say that had I known that before, I never would've picked this book up. That may sound catty, but we all have authors that we love and would read the scribbles off their coffee napkin, right? But then there are authors that we wouldn't touch with a ten-foot stick. Each to her own.

   What Jackson/J.Nelle did do right was creating a tough heroine. Natalya Kutepova was someone who had been pampered her whole life, yet she had a deep sense of patriotism and was willing to go to any means to save her country. I also loved that while she spent the whole novel with a hot man whose beliefs were everything she was against, she never wavered. She stuck to her guns. One of my favorite parts of the novel was Natalya and Leo’s conversation about the rich and poor:

Runner-up for best quote: "If I had things my way, I'd be delightfully fat. Fat and full of cakes and in Paris." A quote from the novel that I could easily imagine being reblogged thousands of times on Tumblr.

Yet, as much as I loved Natalya for her tenacity, there was one scene at the end of the novel that completely put me off. *SPOILERS* At the big showdown between Nat and Rasputin's daughter, Nat uses the Constellation Egg to freeze Maria Rasputin and all the other mystics to death. And afterward, she blatantly states that she feels no regret. Umm. You just murdered dozens of people in cold blood (ahem, excuse the pun), and yet you feel no remorse? What kind of goshdarn heroine are you?

One last little iff I had with this novel was the false advertising it gave on the book jacket. "As they brave a war-battered landscape of snow and magic" seems to promise the adventure of a lifetime. In reality, "braving the landscape" was the main characters fighting off hunger and the cold on a train from St. Petersburg--ahem, Petrograd--to Moscow. Truly the heart-pounding action I was expecting.

In the end, I felt like this book was a wake-up call. I've been cruising by on good books recently, (as you may have noticed by the crazily positive reviews I've been writing), and this book served to remind me that there are some disappointing books out there. Note to self: next time, stick to rewatching Anastasia for the thousandth time.


My rating: 2/10--the only things that saved it from the bottom of the heap were the quotable quotes.

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