Weekend Talk Among Yourselves

Welcome to Weekend Talk Among Yourselves, where I talk about behind-the-scenes stuff and things that have nothing to do about Avalon or whatever I’m recapping, and you can comment with whatever you want.

Here’s what’s happening on my end:

* Shamelessly plugging my way through the weekend!

* Breaking Bad ends this Sunday! I’m totally watching it! And … um … I guess I may be the only person on this blog willing to discuss it? Yeah. Sometimes I forget I’m older than my blog’s audience. Maybe we can discuss, um … Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. instead? Because that show has some promise.

* It’s time for another Book Rant! This time I’m ranting about The Katerina Trilogy, which is basically your generic paranormal fantasy set during the last decades of Imperial Russia. Follow the cut if you want to see me rant about the inconsistent romanization of Russian names, a weak protagonist, and how not to spell the name “Evgeni” and its diminutive form.


BOOK RANT!
Series: The Katerina Trilogy by Robin Bridges (1, 2, 3)
Reminds Me Of: Night Watch if it took place during the last decades of the tsarist regime, with a strong dose of boarding school drama and a pinch of ancient Egyptian mysticism.

Some of you might remember that I attempted recapping this series back when I had a separate blog for non-Avalon recaps. There’s a reason I gave up on the series, even though it had a healthy serving of things I liked: IT WAS HELLA BORING.

For those of you who don’t remember my prior recaps, here’s a quick summary of the first book: Katerina Alexandrovna of Oldenburg (AKA Katya, but the book attempts to spell it in the French style, “Katiya”), the fictional daughter of real-life German-Russian nobles, is a necromancer. In the Russian Empire, this is generally a Bad Thing, since the Romanovs either execute or exile witches. Katya also wants to become a doctor, which is also generally a Bad Thing because the Romanovs don’t let women attend med school.

Unbeknownst to Katya, everyone else in Saint Petersburg is some sort of supernatural creature. All the Romanovs are faeries — specifically, the Russian tsarina, her sons Nicholas and George, and their aunt Miechen. Elena, the Montenegrin princess and Katya’s roommate at the Smolny Institute (AKA Smolni — the spelling changes in the last book for some reason), is a veshtiza, a weird type of vampire that turns into a moth and drinks blood in order to cast spells. Danilo, Elena’s brother and Katya’s unwanted love interest, will turn into a vampire on his eighteenth birthday. Alix, Katya’s roommate in the second book and Nicholas’s future wife, is a werewolf. And the mysterious Princess Cantacuzene, who is actually Joanna Grudzińska, is a vampire and a necromancer.

Katya is thrust into this crazy supernatural hodgepodge when she accidentally casts Resurrect at a dinner party. This earns her the attention of the Montenegrin royal family, mysterious vampire princess Cantacuzene, and Romanov grand duke / future love interest George. Things get worse when Katya accidentally resurrects a dead soldier wrong.

I should mention that Katya refuses to learn about necromancy, even though she keeps rezzing people wrong. She thinks it’s an affront to God and the natural order of things. And besides, modern medicine is soooo much better. This will bite her in the ass on multiple occasions.

Anyway, a lot of stuff happens. Cantacuzene is ousted as a vampire, kills the real-life co-founder of the Institute of Experimental Medicine, and is herself killed by George. Katya ends up forcefully engaged to Danilo, and unwillingly participates in an occult ceremony that turns Danilo into a vampire. (Yes, this comes complete with the line, “And then Danilo was a vampire.”) Unfortunately, the ceremony also awakens Constantine (the book insists on spelling his name with a K), and he’s pissed that a) his wife Joanna / Cantacuzene is dead, and b) he’s not the tsar. So he’s out on a supernatural roaring rampage of revenge against all the Romanovs. Katya then has to help the Romanovs defeat Constantine by participating in yet another occult ritual that turns the tsar into the legendary warrior The Bogatyr. There’s a massive battle in which Constantine is driven out (for now), and Katya obtains the Talisman of Isis, an Egyptian artifact that allows her to control a massive undead army.

In the next book, Katya is forced to stay in school for another year because it’s too dangerous for her to leave Russia and go to med school. So she, Elena, and Alix are trapped on campus behind an antimagic field. This is a lot more boring than I make it out to be. At least Katya occupies herself with trying to solve the mystery behind a ghost that’s bothering everyone at school, and convincing Alix that not all necromancers deserve a savage mauling. Meanwhile, George goes to Paris to learn how to become a sorcerer, and the new chef at school is mind-raping all the normal students with his food. Hey, at least it’s the good sort of mind-raping that makes people think that nothing out-of-the-ordinary is going on.

Long story short, a bunch of Russian wizards want to conduct some sort of ceremony, and they need a werewolf heart in order to complete it. Alix is obviously a werewolf, so she’s kidnapped. Katya, Elena, and Danilo go on an adventure to save her, but really it’s all an excuse for Danilo to get close to George for a knife fight. Katya ends up saving Alix, stopping Constantine from entering the world of the living again, and correctly rezzing Miechen’s husband / the Koldun / the greatest wizard in Russia. Katya also learns how to travel to the Greylands, which is the land of the dead. Oh, and her mother turns into a striga, which is a shape-shifting vampire that only feeds on other vampires.

But what about that ghost? Well, it was a bastard daughter of Constantine, who was killed by Joanna / Cantacuzene. And she started bothering people because her childhood friend, who was a teacher at the school, died of consumption.

In the final book, all the awesome stuff that I thought would happen in the series ACTUALLY HAPPENS. Katya secretly learns Tibetan medicine after graduating from school, since the Romanovs still won’t let her go to med school. She and George run off to elope, but Katya gets kidnapped by Danilo … who is now possessed by Constantine. The two head off to Egypt so they can find the Morning Star, a heavenly sword that can control an army of fallen angels. After a lot of really awesome dungeon crawling and a gruesome sacrificial rite, George finally finds Katya. It turns out that he’s also after the Morning Star, and they need to find it before Danilo/Constantine does.

Katya and George get married, and then they head into the Greylands to find the sword. There’s a massive battle there in which George is seemingly killed. Katya ends up finding the Morning Star and fast-travels back to Russia to present it to the Romanovs. All the named characters ready for a massive battle, but they’re too distracted by Katya casting Summon Bogatyr to notice that Constantine stole the goddamn sword.

Anyway, massive battle, in which Katya regains the sword, and she kills Constantine for good in the land of the dead. She then finds George in the land of the dead (he got better!) and helps him back to the land of the living. The two reveal that they got married, and everyone lives happily ever after, right?

Um, not quite. George is dying of TB. Katya goes to med school to figure out how to cure him, but it’s the 1890s so she’s not going to get much of anything unless she time travels or something. A year later, George performs a ritual to return the Morning Star to heaven, but doing so will kill him. Katya follows him to the Greylands, where she finds Danilo, who somehow survived Constantine’s death. In the end, Danilo sacrifices himself to return the sword so that Katya and George can live happily ever after … at least, for the next eight years.

And then in the author’s notes, it turns out that the main running theme of this book was tuberculosis research. TB was mentioned in passing in the first book, and I guess people with TB used to be mistaken for vampires? I don’t know. And then George (in the book, at least) dies of TB. (In real life, he died in a motorcycle accident.)

So, my problems with the series:

  • In case you haven’t noticed, I made this out to be more interesting than it really is. Much of the first two books is dedicated to court intrigue and boarding school drama.
  • Nothing happens in this series unless Katya gets kidnapped. And she gets kidnapped a lot. Hey, at least in the final book she admits that she’s stupid and shouldn’t get herself in situations where she can get kidnapped.
  • Ancient Egyptian Fail! Katya learns an ancient Egyptian spell, but the book provides a completely incorrect word for “shadow”! At least in the final book, all the ancient Egyptian is “translated” into Russian.
  • Russian Fail! The author can’t decide whether to use actual historical names, modern Russian transliterations, or the French style transliterations! And she can’t spell the name “Evgeni” to save her life. I can think of several accepted spellings. “Evgene” is not one of them. Oh, and I’m not sure how the hell the author got “Shenya” out of “Zhenya” … which is the diminutive of “Evgeni”. Ugh, I am focusing way too much on the spelling of one name.
  • Why did they not put heavier hints of the awesome Egyptian mysticism until the final book? I know, it’s briefly hinted in the first one, where they have that talisman and the characters attempt to contact an Egyptian necromancer in a seance, but then it’s not mentioned again until the final book! Argh!
  • And if TB was a major theme, why wasn’t it more predominant? Again, argh!
  • Every time Nicholas and Alix show up, I always think, “THE TWO OF YOU ARE GOING TO DIE A HORRIBLE DEATH LATER!”

But there were a few good things:

  • I was forced to research European royal families!
  • I brushed up on my Russian reading skills!
  • Awesome ancient Egyptian mysticism!
  • The series went into alternate history territory! Especially since Danilo dies decades before he does in real life.

So, would I recommend this series? Um … no. Unless you like weak female protagonists.

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7 comments

  1. Ah, this involves a topic I wanted to ask you about.What is your preferred form of Russian romanization? I like 2010 Passport system so not so many uncommon accent marks are used.

      1. Ah, so “diacritic” is the better term, not “accent mark”. I do think that some kind of mark should be used to differentiate Е from Ё and И from Й when romanizing those letters though (like E and Ë perhaps).

          1. I know an older form of Passport rendered Й as “Y” with И as “I” (though every system has И as “I”).

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