Here be Dragons

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Aleksandr made a silent promise to the Lord. God would deliver him — would deliver Russia — and he would make Russia into the country that the Almighty wanted it to be. He would be delivered from the destruction that wasteth at noonday, and from the pestilence that walketh in darkness — the terror by night.

1825, Europe — and Russia — have been at peace for a decade. Bonaparte is long dead and the threat of invasion is no more. For Colonel Aleksei Ivanovich Danilov, life is peaceful. The French have been defeated, as have the twelve monstrous creatures he once fought alongside, and then against, all those years before. His duty is still to his tsar, Aleksandr the First, but today the enemy is merely human.
However the tsar himself knows he can never be at peace. He is well aware of the uprising fermenting within his own army, but his true fear is of something far more terrible — something that threatens to bring damnation down upon him, his family and his country. Aleksandr cannot forget a promise: a promise sealed in blood… and broken a hundred years before.

Now the victim of the Romanovs’ betrayal has returned to demand what is his. The knowledge chills Aleksandr’s very soul. And for Aleksei, it seems the vile pestilence that once threatened all he held dear has returned, thirteen years later.

What I liked:

First let me tell you that it is rare that a second part of a series is better than the first one. Still it can happen and I am delighted to say it happened here, at least in my humble opinion. The second installment of the Danilov Quintet series is set, in accordance to the title, 13 years after the Napoleonic invasion on Russia, during the Decembrists revolt. If you need to brush up on your history as I did – In December of 1825 in St. Petersburg, a group of military officials staged a revolt against Tsar Nicholas I. These rebels were liberals who felt threatened by the new ruler’s conservative views and they wanted his brother, Konstantin, to take over the throne. They were, however, quickly defeated by the tsar’s forces. Sixty to seventy rebels died, and all that were captured were either hanged or exiled to Siberia. As a result of this revolt, Nicholas I implemented a variety of new regulations to prevent the spread of the liberal movement in Russia.

Aleksei Ivanovich Danilov once again is your guide in the shadowy world of imperial Russia’s spies and secret societies. He is accompanied by his young son, Dimitry, who, according to his father’s wishes, is about to join the Russian Army but if he were to decide he’d prefer to become a professional pianist and composer. I liked the fact that some chapters we witness through Aleksei’s eyes and some are told from the Dimitry’s point of view because it allowed the author to refresh his world build. Overall this novel is better written than the first one, with a more balanced conflict between the human and the vampire factions, more nuanced characterization and more historical background. Without spoiling you much I might say that Iuda a.k.a Richard Cain a.k.a Vassily Makarov is back again and Aleksei will have to deal with him on a definitely more intimate level than he’d ever wanted to. Iuda is a great creation and I was very glad that he returned in full force.

The mystery of the Romanov Betrayal and the Taganrog / Crimea chapters were a very interesting addition to the whole plot. Also the romantic angle of the two women in Aleksey life continues to be one of the highlights of the story so far, with additional elements/characters featuring in the background like the little daughter of Aleksei and Domnikiia, Tamara, or Aleksei’s son, who was supposed to know nothing about the illicit Moskow affair of his dear daddy but, as it often the case with children, knew rather more than less. It was really nicely ballanced.

You also meet one great vampire character, called Kyesha. I admit it was the very character I was personally waiting for while reading Twelve – a complicated baddie who defies clear-cut division lines which had ruled Aleksei’s life so far. Let me just tell me this: Aleksei will feel responsible for that particular vampire and will bond with him despite himself almost as if Kyesha was his long-lost friend.

What I didn’t like:

I know that some editors pressurize authors to make every installment of a series a more or less stand-alone book but it is not a practice which I particularly like or appreciate. When the first hundred pages (so about one fifth of the whole novel) are spent catching up from the previous part I sometimes yawn angrily and sometimes skim waiting for the real fun to happen but never think ‘gee, thanks for mentioning, good to be reminded of it, I’ve really forgotten about this or that!’. I’ve already worked out that some time had passed and usually if I like a series I read one part straight after the other (providing they are available).

I also admit I found the flow of the plot a little jerky between part’s two and three (it felt like the individual vampire story was being overly stretched out in order to fit with the historical drama.) Now something about the ending. It felt rushed, especially the outline of the Aleksei’s fate after the revolt. It seemed to me that the author wanted to get rid of the poor old Aleksei post haste in order to have his son in the third part all on his own. I wasn’t pleased by such a treatment but perhaps it paid off – I will be able to say so after reading the next installment.

Final verdict:

One of better historical fantasy series with vampires I’ve read so far – of course providing that the next book won’t be a big fat disappointment (but hey, Iuda might be featured again and I love following and hating that b*****d!). This series is a must if you’re a fan of the genre and generally a good quality entertainment even if you don’t usually read historical fantasy .

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