Book Review: The Last Tsar’s Dragons by Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple
Canaries, you know those times when all you need to see is the cover, and you know (you know) the book is meant for you. Well, this was one of those. I was absolutely charmed by this cover.
Then I read the premise: Russian Revolution + Dragons? Yes, please. Sign me up.
And damn, for how good its premise and cover were, this novella came up so oddly short.
If you’re a fan of Russian history like me, you’ll be disappointed by the odd misses and factual inaccuracies. If you’re here for the dragons, you might be satisfied, but they’re not quite a driving force of the story. And if you’re there for the story and characters as reimagined by Jane Yolen and her son and co-author Adam Stemple, you might get distracted and bogged down in anti-semitic, sexist, racist (take your pick of –isms) bits of the narration. It’s used to color the stories and perspectives of the characters, fine, but it sure didn’t make for a pleasant read.
In fact, when I started reading, my first impression from the heavy antisemitism was that this was going to be a sort of political satire on the time period—truth through dark humor and exaggeration, and there was definitely that in the first person narrator. But it never stayed over the top enough for that to work, and never felt tasteful enough to be cutting. And by the final third of the book, we were looking at a full on tragedy with the style and tone to match.
Now, I’m probably not the average reader for this – I know my Russian history and culture, and the big miss for me was just that. Yolen brought her masterful style, and the last few scenes were brutally powerful (though they had nothing on the actual account of the end of the Romanovs; Yolen and Stemple admitted to gentling that ending. Check out Michael Farquhar’s Secret Life of Tsars for a great historical look.).
But did the story work overall? I don’t know, canaries. I couldn’t see past the things that didn’t.
My Rating: One star.
I’m looking forward to seeing more reviews to see how other folks who aren’t as into Russian history take to the story. In the meantime, mileage may vary!
Canaries, what’s your favorite non-western historical novel? Would it be improved with dragons?
Review copy generously provided by the publisher.