I will say that I enjoyed this book, though I find the marketing summaries for it are completely off-base. Yes, it says it’s a fairy tale, but it’s not based on anything recognizable, and it’s not exactly filled with fairy or fantasy-like elements. Yes, it’s a historical fiction previously published in 2007 (also, weirdly enough, as a YA children’s book), but it is not a young adult or children’s novel in any sense of the word. If I wasn’t as liberal-minded as I’d been in my NetGalley reads, I would probably be annoyed for being led astray by the description.
BLOOD RED, SNOW WHITE
by Marcus Sedgwick
Roaring Brook Press, October 2016
Adult historical fiction
Rated: 3 / 5 cookies
provided by NetGalley (thank you!)
When writer Arthur Ransome leaves his unhappy marriage in England and moves to Russia to work as a journalist, he has little idea of the violent revolution about to erupt. Unwittingly, he finds himself at its center, tapped by the British to report back on the Bolsheviks even as he becomes dangerously, romantically entangled with Trotsky’s personal secretary.
Both sides seek to use Arthur to gather and relay information for their own purposes . . . and both grow to suspect him of being a double agent. Arthur wants only to elope far from conflict with his beloved, but her Russian ties make leaving the country nearly impossible. And the more Arthur resists becoming a pawn, the more entrenched in the game he seems to become.
Three Arcs and One Russia
The book itself is divided into three parts, going from a wistful omniscient narration to a third person limited tone and finally to a first person account of the events taking place before and during the Russian Revolutions. Had the entire book been narrated like it was in the first part, I would have loved it. The narration alone in the beginning was enough to garner this book a higher rating than I gave it, purely because of its whimsical style. It also helped that the narration focused on the Romanovs and the “fairy tale” court of Tsarist Russia.
The second part had a bit of suspense added to it, though the counting up of time was a little confusing, since the narration kept going back and forth between “present” time and events that happened in the past. This was where Ransome was getting in over his head, and the plot definitely thickens!
By the third part, where Ransome himself was the first-person perspective, things start to get dull and a bit boring. The story is solely focused on Arthur Ransome. My problem with this isn’t that Ransome–a journalist who wrote a book about Russia–becomes a spy and falls head over heels in love with a Red Party member, I mostly tuned off at some point because Ransome spent most of the second part and all of the third part taking a mostly passive role in the plot. He was interesting in the beginning because of the company he kept, and he continued to be interesting with the amount of groups he’d managed to befriend, but then he kind of just…didn’t want to play the game anymore and wanted out when things got super-intriguing. In all honesty, it’s probably what the guy did in reality, but I was hoping for a more dramatic work of fiction.
The history was riveting, because it really was a tumultuous time period (which, frankly, puts the French Revolution to shame) and I had to look up various figures of the time period. For instance, I knew much about Lenin but not Trotsky, and I certainly didn’t know about Robert Lockhart and his British spy network within Russia. It’s certainly a great time period to immerse myself into, reading-wise, and I’m actually not sorry that I picked this copy up.
That said, I will say this: It is NOT a young adult or children’s book.
Adult vs. YA vs. Children’s
I don’t pretend to be an expert in characterizing any of these genres, but I’m of the camp where YA and children’s books are classified as such because their protagonists are primarily of the same demographic age. The themes themselves are also indicative of classification, and by all rights, I don’t think most children are interested in the inner workings of a post-Tsarist, revolution-riddled Russia, nor are young adults typically drawn to a journalist-turned-spy and his ethical dilemmas at being used by Whites, Reds, and his own British government.
Simply mentioning the Romanov children (and Ransome’s own Tabitha) does not make this a children’s novel. Simply tacking on the importance of a “love interest” and an “overall problem” to add to the romantic drama in the summary does NOT make this a YA novel. Not to mention the historical content given, the seemingly senseless deaths, the talk of Rasputin’s absolutely gruesome massacre, the tragic destruction of the Romanov line, the political ramifications of actions from three or four parties involved within Russia itself…it’s a shitton of things to keep track of, and as a grown woman, even my brain was trying hard to keep track of the events going on.
That is not to say that there are exceptionally precocious children and YA readers out there. Heck, this book could be exactly their cup of tea. If that’s the case, kudos to them. But IMO, the premise and the fact that the book is supposed to be a YA historical fiction threw me off.
3 out of 5 cookies!