I like Sasha though
The cover was beautiful and so was the beginning. The setting is mainly Imperial Russia in an alternative world where the Decembrist uprising was successful. The young Sasha Trubetskaya goes to St Petersburg for her debutant ball then her aunt gets her more or less drafted to the university as one of its first female students after a quarrel with the Emperor. Sasha is adorable as she struggles with prejudices in the academic world. She gets involved with foreign students and come to the attention of the secret police.
All this is entertaining to read and I enjoyed every bit of it but this is also where it starts to go sideways. Sasha’s decisions have no foundation that makes sense to me as a reader she just is. Another thing is that whatever happens there is no tension. For example she gets into a really violent situation where she is rescued in the nick of time by one of the love interests and the only thing that happens is that you read that she didn’t go out for a while. Get me to feel her fear.
I enjoyed the read but it was light with no real sense of adventure. The rest of the story is a sequence of steampunk tropes as Sasha sets out to stop a war with China masquerading as a young Hussar traveling on the trans-Siberian railroad.
Ekaterina Sedia puts realism, women rights, steampunk, love, history and a bit of a superhero into the mix but she overuse the Deus ex machine a bit too much for my liking. The gadgetry is all there though and the world she portraits is attractive from a steampunk perspective but it lacks meat.
I like Sasha though.
In a Russia where the Decembrists’ rebellion was successful and the Trans-Siberian railroad was completed before 1854, Sasha Trubetskaya wants nothing more than to have a decent debut ball in St. Petersburg. But her aunt’s feud with the emperor lands Sasha at university, where she becomes one of its first female students – an experiment, she suspects, designed more to prove female unsuitability for such pursuits than offer them education. The pressure intensifies when Sasha’s only friends – Chinese students – start disappearing, and she begins to realize that her new British companion, Jack, has bigger secrets than she can imagine! Sasha and Jack find themselves trying to stop a war brewing between the three empires. The only place they can turn to for help is the Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace, newly founded by the Taiping rebels. Pursued by the terrifying Dame Florence Nightingale of the British Secret Service, Sasha and Jack escape across Siberia via train to China. Sasha discovers that Jack is not quite the person she thought he was…but then again, neither is she.