I am a fully-motivated and crazy reader of avid proportions. A book is always at the ready no matter where I am, usually a fantasy of some kind or contemporary. (Nie zu viele Bücher!)
This is a review of an ARC edition and quotes/excerpts may therefore differ from the final copy.
May contain minor spoilers.
I have sat on the idea of reviewing Robin Bridges' The Gathering Storm for more than a month, partly due to the dire feeling of complete ineptitude that only college can arouse. Yes, tiredness and the resounding urge to do nothing are pests that have bothered me—again—these last several months, but to find the motivation to review this book is not at all a good descriptor for my reading experience. Unlike the amount of time it took for me to scrap slivers of inspiration aided by an impulsive push to review, I was quick to saddle in and whizz through Katerina’s journey. The experience sped by quickly, if only because I find Bridges' writing both addicting and fun. That is not to say, however, that The Gathering Storm is without flaw.
Set in an alternate Imperial Russia, in which we encounter illustrious monsters of night—vampires, ghosts, werewolves, zombies—and faeries, The Gathering Storm follows young Duchess Katerina Alexandrovna. Apart from her debutant life, caught in the glitz and glam of royals and high society, Katerina desperately wishes to pocket away her “curse.” Since childhood, Katerina has known that she possesses a necromancer’s power; though it is considered a malignant ability—a skill that risks great consequence should anyone discover it. But with one selfless act—an attempt to spare the Tsarevich from a wicked spell—she acquires attention from few unwelcomed parties who learn her secret. The lengths some will go, as Katerina learns, to have necromancy in their grasp while others rebuke it...
The royal family and bloodlines become prey of an old but rising evil as it builds through St. Petersburg, a threat to the Tsar himself. Stuck in the midst of it all—feuds and falsehoods wrapped in conspiracy—stands one particular Katerina Alexandrovna. Mysterious and terrifying events follow as the dead awaken and death strikes the Imperial Order of St. John. Amongst crossfire, Katerina struggles to embrace an unnatural power that may be the key in protecting innocent lives. But how can she accept this dark magic as a part of her when others condemn it (and her) so willingly?
This was horribly wrong. I ran inside, ignoring the mud on my nightgown, ignoring my dirty bare feet. Too frightened to step quietly, I made a terrible racket racing up the main stairs and knocked one of Maman’s favorite cloisonné-studded icons from the wall. I did not stop to retrieve the broken frame. I just kept running.
If I am to take an issue with The Gathering Storm, the abundance of minor characters is the first target I shoot at. However trivial, too many names tossed in bunched clusters not only makes it difficult to follow, but frustrating as well. They exist in numbers that form a giant wave daring to damper the plot, pacing, and reader interest. The set of these characters fail to bear significance to the plot or main cast, and as such, I quickly learned to discard them. Now, where there is a wealth in characters, I also find a fantastical world that lacks in richness.
What I took note of as I read is this book’s potential. It screams out from the page, and I can see how—perhaps if Bridges spent more time developing not only her world, but the characters and creatures—The Gathering Storm might have met its readers a few levels up from where it resides. In no way am I saying this book is poorly constructed, but there are certain instances where the story falls flat or where characters lack range and expansion. Sprinkle in extra thought to the writing process and scratch pages up in revision lines, and I think a stronger story could be told. By power of Almighty Pen & Ink, give me development! Give me variety!
Take, for example, Prince George. Although I look upon his character with fondness, I only spot two extremes with nothing in between to explain how he moves from one end to the other. How can he feel such strong repulsion for another person yet still find himself attracted? Because if he isn’t busy reminding Katerina how dark magic has tainted her, he is showing her faint signs of warmth and concern. If anything, I hope to see more of him the following books if only to see his character mature. …Well, there is that, and there is also that matter of Katerina’s love triangle, which—I must say—doesn’t exactly feel like a love triangle. (Regardless, my Team George merchandise is ready.)
In few ways, I feel grateful toward Robin Bridges. How often do readers encounter the frustrations of love triangles? Instead of watching Bridges’ protagonist run back and forth between two suitors and alternating affections, it’s matter of: One-sided love... or not?
Charmed by Prince Danilo, Katerina is locked under his spell, but she has the wits to resist and even reject his marriage proposal. From thereon, it turns into an issue of Danilo forcefully making the Duchess comply to his will. It is, after all, her necromancy that he truly seeks. Isn’t it? It is clear that Danilo and Katerina share no mutual feeling other than loathing, at least in this book. The question becomes, then, whether or not Prince George will ever tolerate Katerina’s presence.
Katerina herself is wonderful character to admire as well. Although her opposition toward learning about her ability frustrated me, I respect her strong will. She is a steaming little firecracker with a kind heart, who loves her family, and who has a mind of her own. Katerina can think for herself and fights for her dream to be a doctor—a profession deemed inappropriate for women by old traditions—and these are qualities I like in a heroine. If only, if only—Robin Bridges!—Katerina’s strengths had been of use in the end battle! It feels like this scene was written in haste, which results in a rushed conclusion where the main character did not shine.
I still recommend other readers give The Gathering Storm a try anyhow. In particular, I especially suggest this for fans of Susan Dennard’s Something Strange & Deadly or of Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow & Bone. Of the three, I believe Bardugo has the strongest writing, but the similarities between Bridges’ book and the previously two mentioned novels is undeniable: fast, addicting, Russian-based, high class, and necromancy. The Gathering Storm essentially comes out as mash-up of the two.
Like Dennard's novel, Bridges plunges readers into her world. Either this will work for you or not at all, but with such a light, quick pace and style, I found myself hooked. Addicted. One moment my eyes were glossing page one, and before I knew it I'd happily finished the book. If you so choose, I hope you discover that you enjoy The Gathering Storm as much as I do despite its flaws.
Death would be dancing with us at the ball that night.
I crossed myself and prayed it would touch no one I loved.
This review and more can be read at Midnight Coffee Monster.