Sadie Hawkins Sunday Review #9: The Bronze Horseman

Sadie Hawkins Sunday Review #9: The Bronze HorsemanThe Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons
Series: The Bronze Horseman #1
Published by William Morrow on September 8, 2009
Genres: Historical
Pages: 832
Format: Paperback
Source: Gifted

The golden skies, the translucent twilight, the white nights, all hold the promise of youth, of love, of eternal renewal. The war has not yet touched this city of fallen grandeur, or the lives of two sisters, Tatiana and Dasha Metanova, who share a single room in a cramped apartment with their brother and parents. Their world is turned upside down when Hitler's armies attack Russia and begin their unstoppable blitz to Leningrad.

Yet there is light in the darkness. Tatiana meets Alexander, a brave young officer in the Red Army. Strong and self-confident, yet guarding a mysterious and troubled past, he is drawn to Tatiana—and she to him. Starvation, desperation, and fear soon grip their city during the terrible winter of the merciless German siege. Tatiana and Alexander's impossible love threatens to tear the Metanova family apart and expose the dangerous secret Alexander so carefully protects—a secret as devastating as the war itself—as the lovers are swept up in the brutal tides that will change the world and their lives forever.

Recommended by: Lisa V.

First Sentence: “Light came through the window, trickling morning all over the room.”

This is going to be one of those reviews, so prepare yourself right now, okay? This is going to be a three star book review that reads like a rant of hatred, but, honestly, it’s not. Every so often, there’s a book you like, but that you have a lot of issues with, and you have to be up front about all of them. So, take this to heart: I did like The Bronze Horseman overall, despite my myriad issues.

The Bronze Horseman and I were somewhat doomed from the start not to have as happy a relationship as hoped, sort of like Russia and communism. Basically, I looked at this gorgeous, highly recommended book, and I made a set of assumptions. Based on the size, I believed this would be a historical, an epic one, full of feels and delicious historical factoids. I was wrong, which isn’t really the book’s fault necessarily, but that still colored my enjoyment of it.

Though historical fiction, The Bronze Horseman is first and foremost a romance novel. Now, I do not have anything against a good romance novel, but I really do not see the call for an 800 page romance novel. That just feels a mite excessive. A lot of readers are going to burn out along the way, I suspect. The first few hundred pages are romance, followed by some history, then a couple hundred pages of sexy times, and then more war-focused stuff. Readers here for historical will find the romance mind-numbing, and those just looking for sexy times will not appreciate the break to discuss starvation.

Unsurprisingly, the bit in the middle where Alexander disappeared for a good chunk of time was my favorite. The romance took a back burner to a depiction of life in Leningrad during the Siege. Simons does a brilliant job portraying the hunger, the desperation, and the hopelessness of that experience. The realities of survival, and how most people didn’t, are conveyed unflinchingly.

Unfortunately, most of the book wasn’t hard-hitting historical fiction: it was a romance that I just couldn’t ship. From the beginning, I found Tatiana and Alexander’s relationship off-putting, and I still haven’t been able to forgive them for what assholes they were for so long. Now, I hope I can eventually so I can enjoy the next books in the series, but, for the moment, I’m very displeased with them.

To explain why, I have to delve into some SPOILERS, so now’s the time to look away if you don’t want things spoiled.

Tatiana and Alexander meet when she’s just 17 and he’s a soldier in the Red Army, several years older. The day they met, she was upset, unable to find food for her family on the day of the declaration of war, and comforting herself with creme brulee ice cream, when a soldier with eyes the color of her ice cream strikes up a conversation. His eye color already had me rolling my eyes with abandon, but it gets worse.

Alexander does what any red-blooded (Soviet pun!) soldier would do for a pretty girl he’s just seen licking a cone: takes her to buy food for her family from a special store for the military. Once she has what she needs, he escorts her home, only to discover that he has flirted with her sister Dasha in the past. Dasha, who likes to hang around with soldiers if you know what I mean ;), immediately latches onto Alexander, with whom she believes herself to be in love. He exits swiftly, feeling really awkward, and Dasha proceeds to tell Tatiana how perfect he is and Tatiana fails to mention her own attraction to him.

Everyday, Alexander shows up to meet Tatiana after work and they fall in love. Meanwhile, whenever he visits her house, he pretends to like Dasha and even brings along his skeevy friend Dimitri for Tatania. To be fair, Alexander just wants to tell the truth and let the chips fall where they may, but Tatiana is unwilling to hurt Dasha’s feelings. This charade goes on forever, and Alexander eventually proposes to Dasha. Head, meet brick wall.

All this time, Alexander’s hooking up with both sisters, and I basically want to murder all of them. To make things worse, Alexander and Tatiana never have to fucking come clean about the deception to anyone. Conveniently Tatiana’s whole family dies except for her, with Dasha the last hold out. Gag me, okay. Ugh. No love triangle should ever be resolved by the death of one of the people in the love triangle. It’s the coward’s way out. Characters should have to face the consequences of their actions.

Instead, Dasha dies and the two reunite and then have mind-blowing sex approximately fifty times a day for a month, until Alexander has to go back to work. While they’re enjoying their honeymoon, he berates her for giving to much of herself to others and urges her to never leave his side. Of course, serving others is wrong, but she should do everything for her husband, because, you know, gender roles. Alexander is controlling, codependent, rude, and occasionally violent, not to mention a guy who would cheat on both his fiancee and his love for months. I can’t root for that relationship. I just can’t. Had I read this when I was a bit younger, perhaps when I was a teen, I would have been swept away by the romance and concern for the main characters, but now, as a jaded adult, I kept hoping for them to obtain comeuppance for their actions.  

The Bronze Horseman is a well-written romance in a historical setting, but do not come to it expecting to learn much about the Siege of Leningrad. This novel has more in common with Diana Gabaldon than Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn; that’s not a bad thing, but was not what expected or wanted.

Favorite Quote:

“‘There will be other boys,’ she finally added with a gallant shrug, ‘but I will never have another sister.'”

Up Next:

The next Sadie Hawkins Sunday book will be The Essence by Kimberly Derting, chosen by Blythe Harris, who enjoys torturing me.

Want to tell me what to read? For more details, check this post.

26 responses to “Sadie Hawkins Sunday Review #9: The Bronze Horseman”

  1. A couple of friends of mine have been trying to get me to read this for years. It’s still sitting on my shelf. They didn’t tell me that the majority of it is romance! I was led to believe that it was all about war and history and survival. I’m so glad I read your review. I don’t have anything against romance either, but I need to be in the right mood to stomach 800 pages of it. Jesus.

  2. Kat Balcombe says:

    You know my love for this book, so I’m not going to repeat myself, but all your points are very valid, and perhaps if I’d read it for the first time now, I’d possibly feel the same.

    What I love about this book is the mixture of history and romance – and that it changed tack often enough that I didn’t feel ‘stuck’, which I most probably would with a pure romance OR a pure historical fiction. But the period in the village was definitely not my favourite part of the book, and definitely the bit where I zoned out / skimmed.

    And yes, they were both pretty much led by their genitals rather than their morals, but hey, at least there isn’t a triangle 😉

    If you choose to continue with the series, I can say that there is a lot more romance, although the story behind Alexander is pretty interesting….

    • Christina says:

      Ha, I know you do love it, and I don’t blame you. I think it’s lovable, but I think expectations and where I am in my life right now didn’t make this ideal for me.

      I felt like it should have changed tack a bit more. It definitely felt like everything went on for a hundred or two hundred pages and then it would switch. Haha.

      Ummm, there totally is a triangle. Yeah, he wasn’t actually interested in Dasha, but they were dating the whole time, so that’s a motherflipping love triangle.

      I’ll be reading more, yes.

    • Kat Balcombe says:

      Hehe I knew I’d get you with the triangle comment.

    • Christina says:

      You know me well, button pusher!

  3. I hate when you think a book is going to be like x and it turns out to be y. Now that I think about it I think it happens a lot that you think the book is going to be (historical, suspense, mystery) and it turns out to be romance. I can’t think of any books that I thought would be romance and it turned out to be something else.

    “No love triangle should ever be resolved by the death of one of the people in the love triangle. It’s the coward’s way out.” – Yes!

    • Christina says:

      That almost never works out for me, unless my expectations were low. In cases like this, it makes me sad. Hmmm, I’ve had some I expected to be PNR turn out more like UF, but that’s about it.

      *high fives*

  4. Brandy says:

    I read the synopsis and thought, “Interesting.”

    Then I read the first two paragraphs of your review and thought, “Maybe not.”

    Then I read the rest of the review and decided, “Hell no.”

    If your explanation of the relationship hadn’t done it the comparison Diana Gabaldon would have. Seriously romance novels do not need to bee 800 pages. And talk about a lazy way to solve your love triangle. Ugh.

    • Christina says:

      Ha, well, I haven’t read Diana Gabaldon, but they’re super long romance novels with some grounding in history, right? I feel like people are seizing on that in a way I didn’t mean them to. Anyway, it was a stupid way to solve the love triangle, and I saw it coming for four hundred pages.

  5. thebookwurrm says:

    I will never ever ever go there. Ever. It will not happen. I hate cheating stories (disguised as the grand romance) so freaking much. I probably would have mauled the book or buried it. :\ Thanks for going through this so I don’t have to.

    • Christina says:

      Ha, yeah. I hate cheating. There’s nothing that makes it okay for me. Pretty much the only time it wouldn’t make me hate everyone involved is if the boyfriend/husband was missing and presumed dead, or vice versa. Otherwise, you can get yourself out of that relationship. Well, in historical fiction, it’s a bit different too, but this was set in the 1940s, and they could have not had things end up that way.

  6. Audra says:

    Great review — after DNFing her prequel to this, I’m avoiding her books. I know others love her but my TBR is waaaaaaaaaaaay too long for this kind of soap opera. (And 800+ pages?! Unless it is an exceptionally good family saga, then no way!)

    • Christina says:

      TBH is better than that prequel, but the romance has the exact same annoying patterns, and I feel like there was even less history in it, which is frustrating.

  7. Amy says:

    Wow, that is a long book!! I’m not much into historical so this wouldn’t be my thing anyways. I usually do enjoy romance, but this seems like one that would make me want to throw myself out a window. Great review chick!!

  8. Renae M. says:

    I was afraid of this. As I think you know, I’ve desperately wanted to read these books since I was in elementary school. But when I went to look on Goodreads, I saw a bunch of 5 star reviews that shelved this as “fluff”. And I don’t tend to give out 5 stars to “fluff”, which makes me think I’ll have a similar opinion to yours. I think I’d prefer either straight-up romance or battle with starvation, not both. Both are fine, but it doesn’t exactly seem like Simons wove the two together in the best possible way.

    • Christina says:

      I should have been afraid of this, but I was SO sure what it was going to be. 800 pages of fluff is contradictory. I need substance in that many pages. Fluff reads really shouldn’t be over four hundred.

  9. Angie F says:

    I’ve been wanting to read this one for awhile now, since a ton of my GR friends are in love with it. I don’t mind lengthy books, but 800 pages of almost pure romance seems a bit much. However, your comparison to Diana Gabaldon does give me hope. I do think I’ll end up loving this one when I eventually get to it.

    • Christina says:

      Knowing what you’re getting into can only help. The friend who initially recommended this to me generally wasn’t as huge of a fan of romance only, so I’m not sure what’s up with that.

  10. I had The Bronze Horseman on my tbr for some time, even bought it but after reading your review, I am contemplating leaving it unread. With 800 pages I expected historical fiction and I didn’t think it will be so focused on romance. It reminds me a lot of Outlander by Diana Gabaldon which was the same. so many pages is just too much for historical romance (and let’s not forget there are more chunky sequels..)
    And I won’t even start to comment about that love triangle (yes I read spoiler section).

    • Christina says:

      Ha, I had to put the spoiler section in. I would have wanted to know that stuff going into it, so I warn people and then tell them everything straight up. What you wanted from it and I wanted are the same thing. I’m about to embark on the second chunky book and I hope that as they get older the focus can shift some. Who knows, though. *crosses fingers*

    • Good luck, I hope you like it more. 🙂

  11. Kayla Beck says:

    If there is an Audible version of this, I will be downloading it. 810 pages means not searching constantly for audiobooks or rereading HP AGAIN. 😀

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