The Gathering Storm, by Robin Bridges

It always feels weird to complain about a story having too much plot, but sometimes I can't help it: Robin Bridges's novel The Gathering Storm—the first book in a projected trilogy—races along at a breakneck pace, but it would have been improved by more world-building and less straight-up storytelling.

The Gathering Storm is set in the Russia of 1888. Debutante Katerina Alexandrovna, Duchess of Oldenburg, divides her time between her exclusive finishing school and a steady stream of parties thrown by her aristocratic circle, all the while trying to hide her darkest secret: she is a necromancer. While many people in Russia's royal circle boast magical powers, the ability to raise the dead remains taboo, and Katerina is well aware of the danger created by her unwanted “gift”. But when two very different young men—George Alexandrovich, one of the tsar’s sons, and the mysterious Prince Danilo, heir to the throne of Montenegro—begin to show an interest in her, she discovers her power is more than just a curse.

Bridges introduces so many plot elements into her story (Fairies! Zombies! Werewolves! And much, much more!) that I found it difficult to grasp the various characters' motivations. The author made it obvious that Katerina needs to hide her necromancy, but I was unclear on how much the general population knew about the other characters' magical gifts. Several characters in the story have otherworldly powers, but there wasn't much sense of how those powers fit into the greater social network. (Were the non-necromancy powers openly acknowledged, or was Katerina only aware of them because of her own magic?) The social maneuvering was even murkier; Katerina wants to attend the University of Zurich and become a doctor, while her mother wants to arrange an advantageous marriage for her. This kind of generational, changing-of-the-guard conflict could have transformed this book into something really memorable, but Bridges just makes the occasional nod to the topic and then goes back to stuffing yet more supernatural creatures into her already over-populated book.

These complaints, however, didn't stop me from rather enjoying The Gathering Storm, and won't prevent me from reading the sequel. (The Unfailing Light is due out in October, a mere nine months after the first book was released. You guys know I always approve an author who can meet a rapid deadline.) It's not that The Gathering Storm was bad, but it could have been better—more detail would have grounded this story in reality, and it's always easier to care about fantasy that deals with issues we already recognize. Happily, Ms. Bridges still has two books to go, and I'm hoping the next installment in her series will go into more depth about everything from a late-19th-century girl's struggle to get into medical school to the social mores of a supernatural court.

Review based on publisher-provided copy.
Posted by: Julianka


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