Tsarina by J. Nelle Patrick

Title: Tsarina
Author: J. Nelle Patrick
Genre: Young adult / fantasy / historical fiction

Rating: 2.5-3 / 5


I’m finishing up what has certainly been a full semester, and halfway through it, I wanted to read something fluffy, easy, high school, with some drama–think Princess Diaries. I had recently read Prep, which I liked, but which was maybe a little too serious/literary, so had only wound up whetting my appetite for the fluff further. I was looking through my to-read shelves when I saw this one–young adult, and told from the perspective of young Romanov Alexei’s intended as well. Perfect, I thought!

And it served its purpose, but it wasn’t great. I gave it 3 stars on Goodreads, but had actually entirely forgotten that I read it until I started working through my backlog of read-but-not-reviewed books, which makes me tempted to lower its rating. But I think that’s kind of unfair–like I said, I went looking for fluff, and I found it; is it okay to then turn around and mark it down because it’s unmemorable? I always think of how memorable The Princess Diaries books were for me, but then, I was like 11 or 12. I was 14 when the fourth book in the series came out–the last one I read–and it was definitely memorable to me. But also…I was 14. I was going to say, “I didn’t have as much reading history, everything was more memorable then!” Then I realized that my paper journal where I recorded by thoughts about books in ye olden dayes afore yon Intyrnette appear’d was just across the room and I checked. It’s true that most of the titles in it I remember fondly, although there were more entries than I expected with books whose titles I didn’t even recognize. So, I mean… I guess it’s impossible to say how I would have felt about this book if I read it 14 years ago.

Anyway some general spoilers/flavors of the book: It’s implausible and plays fast and loose with the historical facts/timeline. There is magical realism, which I like, and a weird love…triangle…thing (kind of? does it count if one of the points of the triangle is almost completely absent? not an expert)/Stockholm syndrome/super-cross-class enemies-to-friends romance, which I do not like as much. I forget how it ends, but I was left sort of scratching my head. Oh wait, it’s kind of coming back to me, and yeah, it was kind of “hmm…”-inducing. Also the plot revolves around this magical Fabergé egg–cool, right? I love Fabergé eggs–I am simultaneously attracted and repulsed by the most gaudy of them, so naturally I find them mildly fascinating and hold them in esteem. This particular egg is just a McGuffin, though, which is okay… but then there’s all this hand-wringing over “the egg the egg the egg” which just kind of starts to sound silly after it gets repeated so many times. So much tension because “I need the egg.” Partway through I just internally rolled my eyes whenever I saw “the egg” on the page, usually in close proximity to another “the egg,” and I felt like maybe there could have been another way of referring to it. I don’t know. No one else seems to have mentioned that in their reviews, so maybe it’s just a personal thing. Some reviewers say the writing was beautiful and evocative of Russia. Some of the quotes people have pulled out of it do  sound quite nice, although I have to say that “beautiful writing” or great depictions of Russia was not really my experience with the book.

All in all, it was a lightly entertaining story with not a whole lot of heft. It has some nice elements going for it but enough :\ that it’s not a book I would feel confident recommending.


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