St. Petersburg, Russia, 1888. As she attends a whirl of glittering balls, royal debutante Katerina Alexandrovna, Duchess of Oldenburg, tries to hide a dark secret: she can raise the dead. No one knows. Not her family. Not the girls at her finishing school. Not the tsar or anyone in her aristocratic circle. Katerina considers her talent a curse, not a gift. But when she uses her special skill to protect a member of the Imperial Family, she finds herself caught in a web of intrigue.
An evil presence is growing within Europe’s royal bloodlines—and those aligned with the darkness threaten to topple the tsar. Suddenly Katerina’s strength as a necromancer attracts attention from unwelcome sources . . . including two young men—George Alexandrovich, the tsar’s standoffish middle son, who needs Katerina’s help to safeguard Russia, even if he’s repelled by her secret, and the dashing Prince Danilo, heir to the throne of Montenegro, to whom Katerina feels inexplicably drawn.
The time has come for Katerina to embrace her power, but which side will she choose—and to whom will she give her heart?
This book. This book! From the very first paragraph, I was sucked in and lost to the beauty that is Russia in the late 1800s. Katerina Alexanderovna, known to her friends as Katiya, is a young girl who is a part of the Romanov court, though she wants to be a doctor. She is dragged along to balls she finds silly and is happiest when she is given a book of anatomical sketches by Da Vinci. She is clear-headed and smart, and the world she moves through sounds ethereal, both beautiful and deadly. Because Katiya has a secret–she’s a necromancer. She lives in fear of her ability, which she calls a curse, and tells no one about it. Despite her secrecy, a few of her peers–some Montenegran princesses, who Katiya is convinced are witches–and some of the adults in her life hint around it. The Empress of Russia is also a Faery Queen of the Light Court (Queen Titania, anyone?), and Katiya’s mother is involved in supernatural activities and seances with the Dark fae, while her father is more practical. Katiya’s brother is in the military. Things are going swimmingly for Katiya (minus the meddling Montenegrins) until her cousin, Dariya, is poisoned.
Sadly, Katiya is no urban fantasy heroine, is really upset about her ability, and cries at the thought of killing anything. She believes in the occult one second, then thinks it’s all madness the next, even though she is proof that the occult exists. She can raise the dead, but she resists the idea that vampires could exist. This is more understandable in this historical novel than it would be in, say, a Kate Daniels novel, as Christianity is still a ruling power and science is just beginning to sink its hooks into the masses. Katiya, a girl who has loved science her whole life, has to try and reconcile her supernatural abilities with her devotion to science, all while balancing her belief in God. That’s tough, and she reacts accordingly. I never thought less of her for her reactions or thought her over-dramatic. I think she’s a perfect picture of the world at that time. The only thing that really annoyed me was when she was given a book on the history of necromantic powers, she refuses to use it. She thinks she’s raising the dead willy nilly without knowing how she’s doing it, but she refuses to read the book as it’s “unholy.” Girlfriend, you know your precious Tsar is in danger and you’re quite possibly inflicting revenants all over St. Petersburg, and you won’t even try? That bothered me a lot. She’s smarter than that, but she can be really self-absorbed sometimes.
One of the best parts of this book is the lush description of the landscape, particularly Russia in winter. I’m not normally a girl who loves description; dialogue is more my thing. But this book is different! The descriptions aren’t endless, so they actually contribute to your understanding of the story. I have a picture in my head of the Black Ball and it is breathtaking! The images invoked by descriptions of monsters is pretty awesome too. I like the idea of vampire being an overarching term, at least in this novel, for no real reason other that I enjoy the idea of beautiful women turning into large, moth-like creatures to suck the blood of men.
With any other novel, that second paragraph would have made me drop a star, but not this one. This one is compelling even when irritating. I couldn’t put it down even if I wanted to! I love it beyond words. If you’re a fan of the Romanov era, with Nicholas II as a teenager supporting character; if you love Victorian Russia; if you like lush descriptions and powerful magic, this is the book for you.