Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Borderlands of Death and Life

Published:  October 9th, 2012
The Unfailing Light (Katerina # 2)
By: Robin Bridges
Delacorte Books for Young Readers
ISBN-13:  9780385908306

Having had no choice but to use her power has a necromancer to save Russia from dark forces, Katerina Alexandrovna, Duchess of Oldenburg, now wants to forget that she ever used her special powers. She's about to set off to pursue her lifelong dream of attending medical school when she discovers that Russia's arch nemesis--who she thought she'd destroyed--is still alive. So on imperial orders, Katerina remains at her old finishing school. She'll be safe there, because the empress has cast a potent spell to protect it against the vampires and revenants who are bent on toppling the tsar and using Katerina for their own gains. But to Katerina's horror, the spell unleashes a vengeful ghost within the school, a ghost more dangerous than any creature trying to get in.

     Katerina, Duchess of Oldenburg has used her necromancy to save all of Russia and the Tsar in particular.  But now she just wants to put it aside and go to medical school like she's always dreamed of, becoming a Doctor like her Father.  Katiya is forced to put her plans on hold when she finds out that Lich Tsar, Konstantin, is still alive and after the Tsar.  She is forced to return to the Smolny School and the Empress casts a spell to protect the school and keep all the girls from being able to leave without her say so.  The spell awakens something that has been dormant in the school for the better part of a century.  Now Katiya not only has to deal with the court intrigues and threat of Konstantin, but also the machinations of a violent spirit, who will stop at nothing to get what they want.  Even if that means murder is carried out.  Can Katiya find a way to save all the girls in the school, uncover the secret of the mysterious Germanic Princess Alix and protect the Tsar?  And what secrets are those closest to her keeping that have the power to destroy them all?
     I had absolutely loved the original premise of the first book in this series.  It was doing something that nothing else I've read recently in YA has gone in the direction of.  It combined Russian history with paranormal elements, but went further back past the Romanov dynasty.  The happenings of the this story are set about 20 years before the downfall of Imperial Russia and the line of Tsars.  But mostly its about a teenage girl, trying to find her place in a world of political intrigues, while struggling to come to terms with the dark powers within herself.  This sequel expands upon the first book, with a leisurely plot that stops just short of being meandering.  Katiya is vacationing in Greece with her Mother, Cousin and Aunt before going off to medical school in Zurich.  But a disturbing encounter with the Lich Tsar in the caves leads to her plans being put aside and being forced to return to her finishing school. 
      After the events of the previous book, we are told by Katiya that George (the son of the Tsar) has proposed to her a couple of times but she has refused him because of their opposite positions on the Light and Dark Courts.  I feel like the reasons for this and the differences between the types of vampires, fae and the existences of werewolves/shapeshifters were far more expanded and clarified in this book than the first one.  There was some play on the love triangle between Vampire Prince Danilo, George and Katiya but the majority of this book was centered around the struggles of the side characters like Princess Alix, Katiya's Brother Piotr and George himself with his descent into a secret order that might actually be treasonous and evil.  The storyline with the ghost in Smolny was a slow burn and for me it was pretty obvious as to her identity, but I did enjoy the exposition as to her motives/fate at the end of the book.  Also, the aspect of Katiya being able to pass into the land between life and death was really well drawn and interesting to me as a reader.  The revelation about her Mother was definitely NOT what I expected and I'm curious to see what Bridges does with it.  I do feel like there wasn't enough action to really know the direction book three will take, but I liked the easy pace of this one (I'm not in the majority here though I would assume).  Not a perfect sequel, but it keeps up the momentum of the series, if slightly directionless.  And I'll be reading the third one to see how it all ends!  Recommended for those looking for something completely different from the average YA paranormal read, historical or otherwise.
VERDICT:  4/5  Stars
**No money or favors were exchanged for this review. This book is now available in stores, online, or maybe even at your local library.**

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