Review: The Unfailing Light

I received this book for free from YA Books Central in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: The Unfailing LightThe Unfailing Light by Robin Bridges
Series: Katerina #2
Published by Delacorte BFYR on October 9, 2012
Genres: Alternate History, Fantasy, Historical, Paranormal, Romance
Pages: 320
Format: Hardcover
Source: YA Books Central

Having had no choice but to use her power has a necromancer to save Russia from dark forces, Katerina Alexandrovna, Duchess of Oldenburg, now wants to forget that she ever used her special powers. She's about to set off to pursue her lifelong dream of attending medical school when she discovers that Russia's arch nemesis--who she thought she'd destroyed--is still alive. So on imperial orders, Katerina remains at her old finishing school. She'll be safe there, because the empress has cast a potent spell to protect it against the vampires and revenants who are bent on toppling the tsar and using Katerina for their own gains. But to Katerina's horror, the spell unleashes a vengeful ghost within the school, a ghost more dangerous than any creature trying to get in.

First Sentence: “Two little girls in identical brown dresses skipped down the long corridor on their way to dinner.”

Russian history has, for whatever reason (ngl, probably because of the movie Anastasia), always been among my favorites to read about, in both fiction and nonfiction. As such, Robin Bridges’ debut The Gathering Storm sprinted to the top of my to-read pile a little over a year ago. I liked it, but not unreservedly. The Unfailing Light is one of those rare cases where I feel precisely the same about the sequel as I did the first book. If you liked The Gathering Storm, good news; you will enjoy this one as well.

Oddly enough, the book that I am reminded most of in thinking of The Unfailing Light is Harry Potter. Of course, there are abundant magical creatures, but the real parallel is in the villain. Konstantin, lich (undead) tsar, seeks to return to power. Like Voldemort, he cannot be dispatched easily. At the end of the first book, they thought he was gone for good, but…not so much. The fact that he requires the aid of the main character, only to be foiled by her, brought that to mind as well.

To rejoin the living, Konstantin and his forces require the services of a necromancer, which our dear heroine just happens to be. Katerina dreams of becoming a doctor and has plans to attend medical school in Zurich. I love her determination to work in medicine, that she would voluntarily venture into a tough field where she will constantly endure sexist remarks though she has no need of a profession. She could live off her wealthy parents idly, or find a husband with ease. She, however, has bigger dreams. Unfortunately, Katerina’s dreams, like many people’s, get squashed.

Katerina, guess what! You know that evil dead tsar who tried to take over all of Russia again a little while back, who you though you killed with great difficulty? Well, he’s not so much dead, or, at least, no more dead than he was before. Also, Katerina, this means that the tsar (the living one) who doesn’t think women should be educated, your love, and your family will use this chance to protect you right back to The Smolny Institute for Young Noble Maidens. Even better, you’ll get all this news from the guy you love.

George, Katerina’s love interest, was probably my favorite character in the first book. He had this whole awesome broody, I-like-you-in-spite-of-myself, Darcy-ish thing going on, which I, of course, totally fell for. People who don’t like Darcy often say that they doubt he and Elizabeth would work together long term, because he would continually try to boss her around. Well, I don’t know about Darcy and Lizzie, but George sure is a bossy jerk in this one. Protecting the girl you love from harm is certainly a good thing, but not if you have to reduce her quality of life for all of the foreseeable future to do so. Plus, she should have a say-so. You don’t just tell her what to do and threaten that the tsar will make her go. Ugh. Not to mention that protecting her means locking her into basically just that one (admittedly large) building for almost a year. She is NOT your crazy wife; don’t lock her in the metaphorical attic, okay?

Of course, Katerina does not help matters by going along quietly. Me, I would have put up a fight. Katerina’s intelligent and I know this and enjoy her narrative voice. She’s also has guts like whoa. To protect others, she will stand up to anything, risking life, limb and reputation. I love this about her. When she’s threatened mentally, though, she just does not exhibit her strength. She obeys orders that take away from her happiness (like going back to Smolny) and, because she fears embracing her necromancer powers, she does not research them like she should. If she embraced the practice of necromancy like she has medicine, she would be an unstoppable badass. You only have one more book, girl, so go read that Necromancer’s Handbook and memorize the dang spells ASAP.

As far as the plot and world building go, I bounced back and forth, both in this book and the last, between having suspension of disbelief issues and thinking it’s the best. Thinking about this, I believe it’s because this is an alternate history version of Russia where magical creatures exist, but the tsars and everything are the same. I’m not sure what the jumping off point was, and, if it has always been this way, then why are the same personages in power? I suppose this is why so many historical fantasy books take place in culturally-inspired places, rather than the actual historical country. At the very least, despite that questioning, this alternate vision of historical Russia is engrossing and fascinating.

Yet again, I realize my review sounds way more critical than I necessarily intend it to (though I’m going to leave it that way because I did want to say those things). All of that nitpicky stuff aside, I blew through this book, eager to flip pages. The Unfailing Light kept me completely entertained, and, if I had the next book sitting with me when I finished, I would have happily started reading that one too.

This book has drama and romance and betrayal and a seriously creepy ghost and so much more. Also, I really loved the twist at the end that happened to one of the people in her family. It totally changed some dynamics in an awesome way. The Katerina Trilogy is just so much fun, and I will definitely be looking out for the final volume!

Favorite Quote:

“‘She was on her deathbed and gave me a glass of her own blood, mixed with that of an upyri. It didn’t taste bad, but it had a hint of rosemary. And after that delightful fennel salad at dinner . . . well, you just can’t have two strong herbs competing for your palate.'”

6 responses to “Review: The Unfailing Light”

  1. Nice review! You have some of the same opinions I had while reading this novel. Although I didn’t think George was that awful in this novel. He was bossy but it was for her own good but I agree with you that he has that Mr. Darcy thing going on and in the first he was a lot better as a character in general. And I don’t know if you felt this way too, but I was mostly confused by the many creatures in this novel. The names are confusing and to know who is what, well, that really took a lot of my time. But I do think the world-building and the plot were awesome.

    great review!
    Rachel @ Books to Consider

    • Christina says:

      Ha, maybe I wouldn’t have been so bothered by George if I hadn’t liked him so much in the first book. I just don’t like when guys order the girl around, even for her safety. He didn’t even take her into consideration, and it’s not cool. Plus, I’m pretty sure she would have been safer in Vienna, since all the bad guys were in Paris and St. Petersburg!

      Oh, ha, that’s Russian lit for you!

  2. YAY, good news for me, Christina! I will adore this book as much as I did first one (looks like it). This fantastic thing about Robin Bridges – she writes about Russian history and doesn’t piss me off like most attempts on using my culture as a background. She is wonderfully beautifully historically accurate, even with using Russian fairy tales, and I find that bloody marvelous. So, doubly excited to read The Unfailing Light now!

    • Christina says:

      Oh good! That’s awesome. I can’t wait til you read it, because I obviously don’t know much about Russian fairy tales and such. If you approve, I almost want to go back and bump up the rating. You would know!

  3. That cover! Her ribs are so tiny.

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