“The Gathering Storm” by Robin Bridges

Rating – 4/5 stars

Overall – a nice, quick read. Genres: historical and paranormal fiction. Although the blurb on the book makes it out to be a dark book, it has its funny moments and a cute romantic subplot. A good read, especially for anyone who’s a Russia history buff.

What’s a samovar? It’s an excellent question—and one I’d never thought to ask before I read The Gathering Storm by Robin Bridges. It is historical fiction, and those of you who know already what a samovar is can guess what exact period of history: imperial Russia.

The protagonist, named Katerina Alexandrovna or Katiya for short, is the daughter of a minor duke. Nevertheless, because of her ancestry, which can be traced back to Nicholas the First and Catherine the Great, she is considered a princess of imperial blood—and she absolutely hates it. She wants to study medicine and become a doctor, not sit around looking pretty while waiting to find a suitable husband. Katiya’s headstrong, thinks for herself, and is absolutely the opposite of what she’s expected to be as a high-born young woman. Seems like your typical feminist literature so far, doesn’t it?

As if being a tomboy doesn’t make her odd enough, she also has a secret: the power to raise the dead.

Suddenly, Duchess Katiya is Necromancer Katiya. After so many years of hiding her secret, she’s found out after trying to save the tsarevich (heir to the tsar, the crown prince, basically) from a love spell—and suddenly caught in tangle of dark secrets and manipulative people who all want her power for their use. St. Petersburg isn’t just the capital city of imperial Russia; it’s the backdrop of an intense power struggle between two different courts of magical creatures: the Light Court and the Dark Court. Each court is ruled by a powerful faerie—the empress (or tsarina) and Grand Duchess Miechen, respectively. Despite being sisters-in-law, each despises and is jealous of the other. Each court attracts a certain kind of magic and a certain kind of creatures. For example, the vampires featured in the book belong to the Dark Court, as does Katiya, since her powers are dark magic. The creatures of both courts want to use Katiya’s abilities to further their own influence. One family goes too far by accidentally reviving a long-forgotten threat to Russia, and only Katiya has the capacity to save her country.

The first thing I’d like to say about this book: the history is legit (and I don’t use that word lightly). My preference for historical fiction is when it has fictional characters but is based on actual events, such as World War 2 or Queen Elizabeth I’s coronation; as a result, the historical setting seemed sidelined to me when I thought it should be the star of the show. But I certainly can’t say that the history aspect adds no value to the plot: the entire premise of the story is based on actual Slavic myths, such as that about the bogatyr, a legendary knight. Basically all of the characters—except for Katiya herself, naturally—were real people, such as Tsar Nicholas II, who appears in the story as the tsarevich. Really high-quality historical fiction is the kind where you have to spend half an hour on Wikipedia to figure out what was true and what was the author’s imagination—because everything feels real.

Disclaimer though: the pace of the story is a little slow. Some of the scenes are just conversations; they don’t feel like scenes with direction. To be fair, things heat up really quickly at the end, and there are some nice action scenes. However, I, for one, don’t mind a little slice-of-life in books, so if you like that type of fiction, you’ll enjoy the story.

And just so you know: a samovar is basically a large kettle used to brew tea. Apparently, the way the tea is brewed makes it pretty strong, so a samovar is very unique to Russian culture.