TBR Challenge AND Big Fat Book: The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons

  • The Bronze Horseman by Paullina SimonsTitle:  The Bronze Horseman
  • Series: The Bronze Horseman, #1
  • Author: Paullina Simons
  • Published:  2001
  • Source: Purchased
  • Format: Ebook and audio (narrated by James Langton)
  • Length: ELEVENTY HUNDRED THOUSAND PAGES (or, possibly, 811, or 912, or 696, depending on edition); FOUR HUNDRED HOURS AND SEVENTEEN MINUTES in audio (or, possibly, 30:43)
  • Tropes: Angst. Angst. More angst. Angst-o-rama. Did I mention the angst?
  • Quick blurb: Russian WWII misery porn, in the picturesque setting of the Siege of Leningrad
  • Quick review: If you like great historical world-building overshadowed by angsty navel-gazing, interspersed with lengthy periods of passive-aggressive arguments and intermittent moments of wanting to punch people, you will love this book.
  • Grade: C-

Considering that I used the word “angst” at least 15 times up there (I like hyperbole), I looked up synonyms to keep you from mentally throwing things at me. I found a really good one. Are you ready for this? It’s German, which for the purposes of this review, is close enough to Russian.

weltschmerz [velt-shmerts]

noun, German

1.  sorrow that one feels and accepts as one’s necessary portion in life; sentimental pessimism.

Origin: literally, world-pain

bugs_dead

Yes, I know What’s Opera, Doc? is based on Wagner’s Ring Cycle and Wagner was German and not Russian, but it’s still funny.

After finally finishing this book, I felt ALL THE WELTSCHMERZ EVER on my shoulders. And it wasn’t even from holding a 1,358-page hardcover.

The ebook is on sale for $1.99, which is a total bargain at 0.218¢ per page. I bought it at that price in 2012. It glowered at me from the bottom of my TBR, where I kept it to prevent it squashing all the joie de vivre (I’m getting fancy here, eh?) from Minerva (my Kindle).

A few months ago, I started reading it. I made it through Book One, Part Two, Chapter Five. If you haven’t read this, you’ll think I’m exaggerating, but I am totally not (this time). The table of contents is three pages long. Two “books.” Four “parts.” Chapter titles include “Impaled in Space” and “Beset and Besieged” and “Desolate Waves” and “Worn Out with Terror and Misgiving” and “In the Moonlight’s Pallid Glamour.”

But it wasn’t the Wagnerian Gloom and Doom that did me in. I had to put it on hiatus due to the overwhelming urge to punch the so-called “hero” in the nads and push the so-called “heroine” down a well.

A brief recap of the first third of the book:

  • They meet-cute over an ice cream cone. Total insta-lust.
  • She invites him home and finds out he’s boinking her sister.
  • She weeps a lot.
  • He stalks her all over town while continuing to boink her sister.
  • She runs away to find her missing brother and and he gets several men under his command killed trying to find her.
  • He’s still boinking her sister.

Alexander is boinking Tatiana’s sister for a Noble Cause. By “noble” I mean “selfish and cowardly.” It’s the entire premise of the book.

(Now would be a good time to note the subtitle of this novel is “A Love Story.” This is not a romance.)

After a few months letting it fester in my brain, I saw it on Audible, so I sacrificed a credit. And thereby, sacrificed my sappy HEA-loving soul.

*moment of silence*

Sorry, just getting into the spirit of melodrama here.

I started the audiobook from the beginning. Narrator James Langton is brilliant. I was able to push past the New Adult Whinginess (totally a word) and focus on the author’s historical world-building and backstory-building and scene-setting. The opening scenes in Tatiana’s family’s cramped, dreary flat in the middle of Leningrad are amazing. It’s damp and claustrophobic and mundane. In just a few short pages, we’re introduced to all the characters and family history that turned Tatiana in a Mary Sue.

Alexander, on the other hand, is mysterious and enigmatic. We only gradually learn his backstory in bits and pieces that keep adding to the “he can’t really be that much of an asshole, can he?” wishful thinking. His off-screen history is completely intriguing and believable, and it leads him to making a gut-wrenching choice that sets up the major conflict in the book.

The main characters as individuals are compelling. Alexander is physically brave, earning numerous medals and promotions, but he’s morally (ethically? ) a coward. He has his reasons, but it takes a looooong time for all those little reveals to accumulate into sympathy for him.

I don’t want to feel sympathy for a hero. I want him to be heroic.

Tatiana is a Mary Sue, but she’s been conditioned for it from birth. She’s a Martyr with a Capital M. The word “no” never ever crosses her lips. And yet she’s physically courageous in a very TSTL kind of way that endangers everyone around her – which makes her both selfless and self-centered.

I love strong and vulnerable heroines. Tatiana’s strengths and vulnerabilities were the exact opposite of what I wanted to root for.

Separately, they’re fascinating. Together, they’re painful. As in stomach-cramping, fist-clenching “OH FOR FUCK SAKE” unpleasant.

As the book progressed, my frustration grew exponentially. The world-building was completely lost in the grim and plodding pacing. Fragments of drama and action were buried amongst endless repetitive pages of mental lusting and self-doubt and over-thinking and obliviousness.

The middle third of the book is awful. Tatiana has survived and escaped to a rural village. Alexander has tracked her down and married her. This should be the good bits, right? The life-affirming stuff? Nope. When they’re not fucking on every available surface, they’re having lengthy, extended, interminable, overlong, tiresome, needlessly drawn-out passive-aggressive arguments. Did I mention that the arguments are laborious and tedious? And that they’re both still wildly immature and annoying?

I should probably bump up the grade. I obviously have Very Feely Feelings about this book.

I stuck it out and finished the damn thing. And holy hell, when Simons decides to pick up the pace, she doesn’t fool around. The real drama and action I was craving erupted in the last quarter. At one point I literally said “HOLY FUCK!” out loud and scared my dog. (If you’ve read it, it’s the scene with Alexander and Dmitri in the hospital and you know exactly which one I mean.)

bugs_dead_elmer

This is Tatiana [NO SPOILERS] Alexander from the [NO SPOILERS] and begging that one really interesting character who should have his own book to [NO SPOILERS].

This is so weird to say, but when the war engulfs their lives, Tatiana and Alexander are much better characters and much better people. When they’re fighting external forces separately instead of their own ridiculous obsessive love, the story — and the romance — comes alive.

So. In conclusion, I’m not sorry I read it. I keep thinking about it, and my memories are vivid and visceral. I’m wondering if my frustrations would have been minimized if I had stuck with the ebook and skimmed through the drama-llama dreck. I have the second book on hold at the library (because of that utterly crushing cliffhanger) — in paper, so I can fast-forward.

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2 thoughts on “TBR Challenge AND Big Fat Book: The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons

  1. Darlynne says:

    Better you than me and I appreciate that your review sounded much better than the book (although I acknowledge other readers have LOVED it). I have migraines, I don’t need someone else’s weltschmerz.

  2. Well shit. I read this book a few years back and had the exact same response as you. I vividly remember this book, my emotions, and the general high drama of every page. I distinctly remember saying “Why are you so stupid?” over and over again at the characters. What I did not know until reading your post is that there is a sequel. Now I have to read it. Because the first book was not punishment enough.

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