Saturday, June 16, 2012

"Balls, balls, balls! I am sick to death of balls!" *snicker* Okay, am I the only one with a dirty mind here?


2.5 out of 5 stars

What is it with heroines in today's fiction? Actually, that's the wrong word; no wonder we refer to them as Main Characters rather than heroines--there's no heroism anymore, especially in YA fiction, it seems. Instead--and my rant here refers to female YA MCs--we're continually presented with leads who declare, repeatedly and petulantly, they want to be independent; that they're strong women who have no use for the conventions of the times in which they live and instead want to live lives of their own design, under their own control. Yet always, always, instead of behaving in such a strong, confident manner--putting their money where their mouths are, so to speak--they're whiny, whimpy little girls who rarely, if ever, actually stand up for themselves, who meekly go along with whatever they're told and only finally become brave when they have the support of "the man they love/the man who loves them." Thank goodness I don't have a daughter as this is nowhere near the message I would want her to take to heart.

In The Gathering Storm, the latest example of this trend, we have Katerina "Katiya" Alexandrovna, Duchess of Oldenburg and one of the many nobles in the confusing thicket which is Russian aristocracy in the last decade of the 19th century. She's a necromancer, but, of course, she's ashamed of it, calling her talent a 'curse', and wants nothing to do with it. (Just once I'd like a magically-enabled female protagonist to be enthused about her powers/talent; I know it's supposed to show some sort of goodness of spirit and purity of soul that Katerina has this awesome and rather taboo ability yet refuses to succumb to its allure, but it just makes her look like a wuss.) Dangers start brewing and when she has questions about her ability and how it might fit into these troubles or be used to stop them, she ignores all offers of help and information given to her. I mean, why not? It makes much more sense to just muddle through in ignorance and create even more problems for yourself and others than to, say, use the helpful reference book given to you to understand how to control your talent and empower yourself. Give. Me. A. Break. And that's just one annoying aspect of Katerina's personality. She also wants to be a doctor and chafes against the restrictive, narrow-minded attitudes which keep women out of the medical profession. Good deal and very "rah, rah, grrrl power!" But then, and this is where it gets stupid again, she faints in a situation where things got a bit hectic and bloody. Really? You want to be a doctor, but in a stressful situation, you faint? Yeah, that's a doctor I want by my side. So she basically affirms everything everyone's been saying about her--that she's a weak woman with no business being in medicine. Also, in a plot device which basically fueled the novel, this "strong" woman has no problem being manipulated and used against her will by various supernatural factions in St. Petersburg. Instead of growing a pair and finding a way to stand up for herself and her family, she blindly believes every threat used against her to keep her collared and leashed like a good little bitch. Every time you think she's going to be bold and do something, she backs down or is rescued by a handsome man. Gak!

What really pissed me off, though, is the plot device used to provide dramatic tension: Instead of opening her damned mouth when things got tough (basically at the beginning of the book) and telling someone she trusted about her power, about the threats against her, about anything, Katerina keeps it all to herself, because "she's all alone." Yet, as any perceptive reader will be able to guess, oh, right around page 50, Katerina finds out at the end of the book that the people around her either knew some of her story or, upon discovering her secret, accepted her quite readily her for it. Wow! You mean she created most of the problems simply because she kept her mouth shut and tried to fix the situation herself, even though she's ignorant to the point of stupidity, and had she just shared even the tiniest bit of the burden with her friends or family, things would've been a lot easier and some of the dramas which had cropped up wouldn't have even occurred? No way! Who could've guessed that? That is just the weakest, laziest way to create dramatic tension and any good author should know that. Sure, you can have a situation where your character doesn't talk to anyone because they don't know who to trust and create dramatic tension that way. However, your character has to absolutely be alone and surrounded by enemies. Though Katerina claims that is her position and though, yes, she does have enemies conspiring against her, she also had a coterie of close friends and family she knows absolutely she could confide in, if she just got her head out of her bustle-covered rear. And that's why this type of plot device, in this particular storyline, is inexcusable.

Which is a shame. The supernatural storyline is both creative and unique, with its mixture of faerie rivalries, vampires, necromancy and sorcery, and the Baroque atmosphere of the 19th century Russian court just enhances the sense of danger and intrigue this storyline created. However, while Bridges can occasionally create scenes of intense drama and atmosphere, there seemed to be a disconnect between the supernatural scenes and the rest of the novel. At times you wondered if, when faeries and vampires were brought up, the person was delusional or joking. The fact of their existence didn't seem to be general knowledge, but how would that work? Could you really keep the existence of werewolves, faeries, vampire and zombies a secret? There should've been a better mesh between the two worlds; as it is, we read about balls and soires and yikes! zombie attack! Then we have another ball and a fancy dinner... It's all a bit disconnected, with things picking up only in the second half of the novel (less balls, more action). Though she can write compelling action scenes and atmospheric descriptions with her narration (dialogue is her weakest point, with occasional awkward character interactions and turns of phrases), her character development, beyond what I've already pointed out, is a bit flat and two-dimensional; a lot of the bad guys stray close to caricatures. If Bridges had put a bit more effort into the plot, especially as it pertains to tension, and stayed away from cliched character traits, The Gathering Storm could've been an epic masterpiece. As it is, it's just a middling start to yet another series (seriously, why are all new books "the beginning of an exciting new series!"? Why are there no more stand-alone novels?) which has nothing really to recommend it and nothing to make it stand out from the crowd of similarly-themed series.

Read December 10-14, 2011
Originally reviewed on Goodreads December 18, 2011

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