Monday, March 26, 2012

Review: The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons

So I started hearing about The Bronze Horseman trilogy everywhere awhile back and decided I wanted to read it because it was a book being hyped by readers not by publishers. You know books that had been around awhile and were still gaining readership. I mean I even saw actress Torrey Devitto mention them in an interview which intrigued me. She said it was the most epic love story she'd ever read. That should have clued me in that I wouldn't like them to be honest. The world's definition of epic love and mine are quite different. But..I still think sometimes that I like big epic, sweeping love stories so I wanted to read them.

Anyway, a few friends of mine and I were looking for something to distract us from the utter fail Gossip Girl had turned into, so when they said they'd be up for reading something I suggested these books. BIG MISTAKE. I will explain in detail why, but it kind of reminds me of this time when I was a kid and my brother, sister, and I were renting movies and for some reason I suggested A Thousand Acres and it was the worst movie ever, just really slow and depressing, nothing happy happened. And, I don't know how many years ago that was, but to this day whenever I'm with my brother and we are renting movies he will bring it up. I can never be forgiven. And now I think that's how these friends will feel about me! But in my defense, the reason this happens is because I'm pretty much willing to try anything and that leads to tons of mistakes. But sometimes I uncover some surprising gems! I hate it though, because obviously I want people to enjoy whatever book or movies I suggest we read/watch. Please be aware this review is kind of spoilery.

The Bronze Horseman is the first book in the trilogy and while I've never read the classic poem it's based on, the reason the book is titled as such is explicitly laid out later in the story. Apparently the poem engages the ideas of what price are you willing to pay in war? And this question becomes one that Alexander and Tatiana will face. The story opens just before the Nazis invade Russia in World War II and is told primarily through Tatiana's perspective, though sometimes it shifts and tells things from Alexander's POV. Tatiana is a young naive girl living in a two room apartment with her parents, sister, brother, and grandparents. When it's announced on the radio that war is imminent, her family sends her brother off to a place where they think he will be safe and tell Tatiana to go get food. Which she procrastinates in doing. But luckily she meets a handsome soldier who can't tear his eyes off of her and he helps her get all the food she needs. Their attraction is immediate and intense and all is well until Tatiana learns that her sister had been dating him before. They continue seeing each other secretly though and he sees her sister publicly. The reason for this is that Tatiana and her sister Dasha are best friends. However, this is not something I gleaned from actually reading the story, the reading guide at the end of the book enlightened me. At first I could understand why Tatiana felt she couldn't "steal" Alexander from her sister but it made less sense as the story went on. However it remained a huge obstacle even after SPOILER her sister died /END SPOILER.

The war intensifies and Leningrad starts to starve to death and this is going to sound awful, but this was the best part of the book. It was harrowing and awful and grim. The romance was put on the back burner as Tatiana and family just tried to survive and people started to die. But it doesn't last forever and Tatiana eventually escapes and I'm not going to give more of the plot but I will discuss what I didn't like.

The characterization is awful. All of the characters are very one note and they are all sort of ridiculous. Almost EVERYONE is seen as an obstacle to Alexander and Tatiana's epic love and as such they are painted very poorly. Her parents beat her and it seems like it's just to give Alexander the chance to protect Tatiana. Her cousin is selfish and steals the food while they are starving. Her sister thinks only of herself. No one has any depth or layers.

The prose is also terrible. It's simple and repetitive and choppy.

Tatiana and Alexander have the same conversations over and over. For the first half of the book, it's about how he MUST date her sister because she can't take him away from her sister like that, but then when he does date her, she wonders why he doesn't love her and how can he love her sister? For the second half of the book it's all about how he wants to protect her but she keeps wanting to do things that will keep her near to him. Which reminds me..

Tatiana is all give-give-give. I think we are supposed to like her for this because she is always putting everyone else's needs above her own well being, but it's just kind of weird to me and not very healthy. Plus SPOILER towards the end of the book she gives her ACTUAL blood to save Alexander from death WHILE she's pregnant. I just don't think that's very healthy anything I should be swooning over. It's just kind of gross. /END SPOILER

Alexander meanwhile wants to be Tatiana's master, he's overly preoccupied with the fact that she's innocent, he's the only man she's ever touched, etc. He gets angry when she doesn't immediately obey him and at one point, he punches a wall right next to her head. I guess this is supposed to be sexy, but it's just a huge turn-off to me. And it was like...I can't believe I suggested this book to my poor friends to help us forget about Gossip Girl when it was basically a variation of Chuck and Blair. Sigh. A quote for your enjoyment:

Alexander threw the backpack against the wall, close to Tatiana's head. He came at her with clenched fists and smashed the wall near her so hard that the plaster crumbled and his hand went through the hole.

Her legs trembling, her eyes closed, Tatiana backed away another half a step and stopped moving.

'For f-- sake!' Alexander screamed in a rage, punching the wall next to her face. 'What will it take for you to listen to me, just once, just f--- once, what will it take for you to do as I say?" He grabbed her by the arms and pinned her roughly against the wall......

Whirling around, he came for Tatiana, who backed away from him, her hands up, whispering, 'Shura, please...' but, unstoppable and crazed, he came at her just the same and shoved her down onto the couch. She fell back and covered her face. Bending over her, Alexander knocked her hands away. 'Don't cover your face!' he shouted, grabbing her cheeks between his fingers and shaking her. 'Don't make me more crazy!'

Romantic, huh?

There are pages and pages and pages of explicit sex, basically the entire honeymoon period between them as Tatiana learns all the different sexual positions and acts. So yeah, not my style.

There were things I kind of liked about the book though, like, I could see how this story would have moved me if it had been shorter, if their love had felt impossible for other reasons, if the characters had been more fleshed out...their discussion about "The Bronze Horseman" was definitely one of the better parts of the book and I wish that I had cared about Alexander and Tatiana.

And the book did make me think about why this kind of story is attractive or what the ingredients are to this kind of epic love. I think one of the main things that really stood out to me is how Alexander and Tatiana don't take other people into consideration. It seems like they do by not telling Dasha, but she actually deserved to know the truth about Alexander if he didn't love her. And you could argue she ended up dying of a broken heart when she found out the truth. And you also need to have other characters acknowledge that what they have is special, i.e. Tatiana's cousin asks her what it's like to feel that way. A strong sexual attraction is also important, one that's unlike anything they'd ever experienced. But also there's the idea that their love represented something bigger to Alexander, Tatiana represented the hope of God and to Tatiana Alexander became all she had to live for.

So basically I didn't really like this book. And I don't like this kind of love story which might put me in the minority of the world, I don't know. But in its defense the book read pretty quickly and I did like the part about the starving of Leningrad. I listened to the 1999 End of the Affair film's soundtrack for my reading soundtrack and that worked out pretty well, as it's super dramatic. Also, I'm glad I read it because it is a popular book right now and now I know what people are talking about. I just don't agree!

Rating: 2/5
Things You Might Want to Know: Explicit Sex, profanity, violence,
Source of Book: Bought it
Publisher: HarperCollins


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