I didn’t always want Tsarina. I wasn’t in love with the cover–too much red. But I read the premise and first pages and was enchanted by it. When I got it for Christmas, I immediately dove into it. Here is the review. It will contain historical spoilers, but I’ll warn you when they’re coming.
This book started off well (“Oh, no, not another ‘this book started off well’ review,” you say). It was gorgeous and I loved the relationship of Natalya and Alexei right off the bat. Right away we’re introduced to the magic and what it means and what the dangers are, with no dancing around the lead up to it. It’s a unique world and setting, and even magic, for YA, and I really appreciated that. And to top it all off, the magic centers around a Faberge Egg, which I have always adored.
Even after we’re taken into politics and riots and kidnapping shortly after that, I’m still interested. It’s when the love triangle shows up that the book lost me as an enthralled reader. Don’t get me wrong. In YA, I practically assume love triangle as soon as a second boy shows up. I predicted about a scene early that Leo was about to become a viable candidate for a love interest, even though he really hadn’t been up until then.
But I didn’t want it. And not in a “Team Alexei” sort of way. I didn’t feel Natalya’s attraction to Leo. I anticipated it happening and could see it in a very mechanically set-up way, but that’s all it ever was until the very end. Not to mention the Stockholm Syndrome-ness of falling for your captor, but there are times that I am cool with that.
Now I will talk about something spoilery, but it’s historical spoilery. Like if you know anything about the Romanovs at all or ever watched Anastasia, you know what I’m about to talk about. So if you don’t know the history and want to remain unspoiled, skip this paragraph. I knew, of course, that Alexei would die, but it was a matter of when. I expected that Natalya would see him again, that he would die in something related to the egg in the climax, and we would get to see it. Instead he dies off screen, and just like Natalya’s relationship with Leo, it feels very mechanically handled, that he dies because he has to, and while Natalya’s initial blaming of Leo was totally understandable, I just didn’t feel her grief.
Anyway, we don’t see Alexei again after that first chapter. Yes, if you fell in love with him and with their relationship in chapter one, do not expect to see them together for the rest of the book.
The ending feels too rushed, and takes some magical suspension of disbelief considering that I never bought Natalya’s feelings for Leo. That’s all I’m going to say about that, because spoilers.
I liked both Natalya and Emilia. They were the perfect combination of spoiled and resourceful. The thing that shone most for me was Natalya’s constant desire to protect not just Alexei, but Russia, by finding the Faberge Egg, when there were much easier routes to take. Another interesting character (who we never see) is Rasputin. In this version, he is merely a catalyst, but he is also not portrayed as villainous. The number one trait we hear about him is how much he loved the tsarina and would do anything for her.
This is the theme I think that one comes away from Tsarina with. Intense love leads to magic and protection and it gets passed on throughout the book. It’s the sort of thing that a younger me might have eaten up, and perhaps I still would have, had I felt all of the relationships in this book more strongly.
Recommended for fans of: Russian history (loose); the Romanovs; Rasputin; Faberge Eggs; one-sided love triangles; politics; riots and war; Stockholm Syndrome-y relationships; strong friendships; mystics; train rides, sunflowers, & symbolic elks
Rated: 3 blue hearts