Book Review: The Gathering Storm (Katerina #1) by Robin Bridges

The Gathering StormThe Gathering Storm by Robin Bridges

My rating: ★★★☆☆

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 the 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 a 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 and Deadly or of Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and 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.

Call me Motivated (To Do Nothing)

Midnight Coffee Monster begged for an update soon after my last post (dated Sep. 26th, 2012 — a date which causes my face to cringe into an ugly, wrinkled thing for a head. This is true; I do not lie. Especially when I consider the length of time that has since passed). Unfortunately for this blog, as well as for devoted subscribers (i.e., imaginary creatures created for my own blogging comfort), I find it easy to ignore things (and people). The reason is simple: Motivation flew off to an unknown destination and forgot to take me with it. Motivation is living it up in some place more obscure than Waldo’s hide-outs and I’m…

Failing statistics, eating cake, failing to dutch braid, finishing my Nobuta wo Produce obsession, not finishing my other Asian drama obsessions, and generally accomplishing small deeds in life, like:

Original melodramatic post brought to you by: Raya

And I can’t forget Thursday morning’s adventure:

I love the taste of future heart disease and clogged arteries.

In summary, these are my excuses for not updating sooner. My apologies (sincerely, because I miss everyone here on WordPress). Although I swear on every book I own and have read that doing poorly in statistics rains stress! pressure! and: stress! Statistics, I am afraid, is more of a foreign language than my German class. I treat the last couple of exam grades in math as things so unacceptable, so embarrassing, that: What, are you joking? Those aren’t mine… It’s equivalent to the time when I was nine and enjoyed tormenting my mother in the grocery store. To Mom’s horror, I enjoyed re-enacting Riverdance. “Stop it,” she’d hiss, and smile warily at passersby, as if to say, “That’s not my child…” Unlike my stubborn personality, I hope my statistics grades do not stay consistent but rather leap to improve. I hope, I hope. There’s another exam next week, after all (which I need to study for…).

But don’t worry. I didn’t come here with the intention to bore all readers about my mathematical woes. Instead, I’d like share giveaway wins and books I purchased last month!

The following are all books I won, the first 3 from GoodReads First Reads:

As I do with most books these days, I sat Celona’s novel down after 70 or so pages — a choice made not because Y is a poorly written book (because I don’t believe it is), but because I hit a reading slump. No matter how brilliantly written, I can’t seem to finish a book without a push of effort, Hulk-strength edition. Slowly, I feel my book-love coming back, but I feel it’s in direct correlation to my math grades. Until then, I fear all these books will sit unread for the time being (with the exception of Sumo — a very fast read), but interest in them still holds.

Lastly, I mustn’t forget:

I won a copy of Jiménez’s The Circuit just by commenting over at Vamos a Leer, a blog created and run by a wonderful group of people from the LAII at the UNM. Weeks have passed since I’ve read a post from anyone’s blog, but I can always expect to discover new titles to check out at Vamos a Leer. Count on this blog to have great books to share (and giveaways!), so head over and give it a read-over — I don’t think it will disappoint you.

In addition to the previously mentioned books, I also purchased — for the first time ever! — used books (online). While I am not inexperienced in whipping cash out for used books, I have only done this in-store. You know, once I have flipped-through pages and examined the damage level. I must say that going through on the decision to buy used books online felt uneasy, because there is little else in this world that will force me into sighing non-stop for hours than a horribly damaged book. Not only that, but: Hey! I spent MONEY on this! I adore the aged look of vintage books, but I also adore quality — more so if the book is not vintage.

Curious to see what the mailman stuffed inside the mailbox?

First up: The Gathering Storm (Katerina #1) by Robin Bridges! Although the description read “USED LIBRARY BOOK,” the seller shipped me an ARC edition instead. (In fact, I received several old ARCS, which were not part of the books’ descriptions.) I should hope there are no major differences between the ARC and final copy… Does anyone know?

I discovered this book on Savindi’s blog, The Streetlight Reader, and I couldn’t fight curiosity off after reading her reviews. I know she loves this trilogy so far, and I hope to enjoy it just as much! Also, as an additional plus: Russian setting! If you ask me why, I cannot supply an answer to explain my fascination for not only the WWII era, but German settings and, yes, anything Russian-influenced. My interests are what they are.

 

***If you feel at all interested, you can find Savindi’s reviews on The Gathering Storm and The Unfailing Light by clicking on the respective links.

As you can see, I also ordered a copy of China Miéville’s Un Lun Dun. Per accident, I stumbled on Un Lun Dun‘s GoodReads page while on a hunt for steampunk-like reads. Now, I have no idea how steampunk this book is, but I find the summary irresistible and look forward to the instant I decide to pick it up! My only complaint? It’s another ARC, which — once again — is not what the seller promised.

I sat on my bed for a long time. I sat and sat. Something was wrong inside me, I felt it inside my stomach and I didn’t know what to do. So I layed down on the floor. I stuck out my pointer finger and pointed it at my head. And I pushed down my thumb. And killed myself.

— Howard Buten, When I was Five I Killed Myself

The strong sensation of excitement that literally feels as though it’s coursing through my body cannot be put into proper words. To clearly define that giddy rush, I mean. All us book nerds experience it often, so I know you know what I mean.  These two books, my friends, are all I thought about for months. Does anyone remember a post way back when, and I had checked Crown Duel out from the library? What did I say about it again?

Either I finish the library’s copy or I buy it, which may happen anyway. Now that the book is in my possession, I don’t want to part with it.

Oh, right. Well I bought it.

Unlike the other two books, Buten’s and Smith’s books could not have been described better. Crown Duel displays more wear and tear than I would like, but I’m otherwise very pleased. Buten’s novel, I should add, is in particularly good shape all things considered. It’s the oldest of the bunch, yet — and I would not feel surprised — it is possibly the least touched, as I don’t believe it’s a well-known title (at least not in the U.S.). Aside from a few page-skims, Smith’s books remains unread by my eyes, but I hope for an expect to get lost in one fantastic adventure. As for Howard Buten’s quirky little novel, I did start reading it. The narrative is different from what I expected, but I am in a place where it is still too early to state my overall impressions. (I read up to chapter four and stopped. Ideally, I can have a do-nothing-but-read day and read Buten’s book.) Still, I feel confident enough to say that When I was Five I Killed Myself is as fresh as the title.

O, mine eyes! I know the phrase: “Do not judge a book by its cover.” But who thought up this book design? I’m talking about Burroughs’ Running with Scissors. I don’t judge a story by its cover, but I certainly judge the cover. Quite possibly, this is the ugly duckling that will never become a swan on my bookshelf. No. This is the ugly duckling (and never a swan) on my bookshelf. It was never intended to, of course, but this particular seller sent me a different copy than the image provided online. Disappointment weighs heavily. Other than that, I had hoped to read this last month for the LGBT reading event, but it unfortunately arrived too late — near the end of the month, actually, and besides: I had exams to study for. Such is life for students.

Tales of the Madman Underground was purchased from the same seller that shipped Burroughs’ book, and unlike the former, this book came as described — for the most part. The marker-squiggle that mars the cover doesn’t make me feel happy, but it’s in otherwise good condition.

**IN CASE YOU WISH TO KNOW: I purchased all these books on AbeBooks. Like the rest of my German classmates, I hunted for the cheapest-but-still-in-good-condition textbooks when I realized: AbeBooks isn’t just for textbooks?! Wow-zah. Temptation proved impossible to resist, and that is the story of how six additional books made it on the bill.

“Understanding Statistics,” it says. “It’s easy,” it says. “Why are you stabbing me?” it says.

Well, you guys, that’s all for now. I’m sad that I could not update sooner, but my life has been a mixture of busy and lazy and no blogging. As for weekly book memes, it seems Recommend A… is at a halt.  This is sad news, guys, because it was one of my favorite memes! However, if time allows, I will start TTT posts again on Nov. 20th. I cannot promise consistent book reviews, or even regular posting for that matter.

To pass my last math pre-requisite class with decency (and dignity) is something I need to treat seriously, and! If luck favors me, I will be taking the 8-credit nursing assistant course, which starts in January. (I goofed, and now I’m forced to hand in my application on the last day possible. This course is first-come, first-serve. I pray there’s a spot left.) After these two particular classes, I will finish the rest of my science courses — I dread the impending doom of chemistry. I have yet to hear one kind comment about any of the instructors.

But — before I forget! — I do have some posts planned. Keep an eye out! I just have to write them… and then post them.

Otherwise: I hope all my fellow bloggers are still around, writing, reading, and blogging havoc. I miss reading ALL of your posts, but I miss talking to you all even more. Leave me things write me comments what are you reading and how is life please don’t let crickets fill this silence.

Ciao!