[Book Review] More history in my tsar and dragon novel, please.

Tsar DragonsBook 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.

 

Today’s Book Blurb: Tsars, Dragons, and what a cover.

The latest, greatest and (sometimes) strangest blurbs from the book world.

This week, I’m hijacking the blurb features with this pretty, pretty cover. Even if I wasn’t already a sucker for fantasy set in Russia, this would have absolutely caught my eye. I am intrigued. I am excited. Bring on the Ruski Dragons!

Tsar Dragons.jpg

“It is the waning days of the Russian monarchy. A reckless man rules the land and his dragons rule the sky. Though the Tsar aims his dragons at his enemies—Jews and Bolsheviks—his entire country is catching fire. Conspiracies suffuse the royal court: bureaucrats jostle one another for power, the mad monk Rasputin schemes for the Tsar’s ear, and the desperate queen takes drastic measures to protect her family.

Revolution is in the air—and the Red Army is hatching its own weapons.

—The Last Tsar’s Dragons by Jane Yolen & Adam Stemple

 

Canaries, what book covers caught your eye recently?

 

[ Book Review ] History for the history geeks, Russian-style

Russia under the Old Regime by Richard Pipes

(The second edition)

With this book, I am taking a brief break from light space opera and diving into a more substantial text. Russia under the Old Regime by Richard Pipes offers a comprehensive  overview of Russian history from its state formation during the first millennium AD to 1880 — the decade when “the ancien regime in the traditional sense died a quiet death.” (xxi)

Through frequent contrasts with Western Europe, Pipes draws the reader down the chronology of the rise of the Russian empire and the forces, internal and external, that shaped its history. For me, this books stands out for the attention it pays to building the foundation for an understanding of Russian culture, from the geographical and climatic conditions, to the Mongol takeover, its legacy, and the presence and quality of the Christian Orthodox church.

Rather than presenting history as a series of discrete events, Pipes stresses social, economic, and political connections as it presents a continuous narrative. However, this is a historical text, heavy with detail and tangential asides, shifting from the historical narrative , the etymology of “Russia”, to the manner in which terms like “patrimony”, “despot” and “feudalism” are (and whether they should) be used to refer to the Russian Empire and its organization.

The book is not an airplane read, nor is it, despite the dry wit that is occasionally apparent in the narrative, a light piece of nonfiction. I would not recommend this to someone who has no prior interest in either history, Russia, or the Soviet Union.

That said, the book is well written, and if you have any interest in Russian history, it is a must read.