Friday, 5 September 2014

The Last Romanov by Dora Levy Mossanen


The howls of wild aurochs echo deep in the ancient forest as Boris Spiridov spreads his hunting coat over a mattress of leaves and Sabrina Josephine, daughter of a grand duke and favorite in the Romanov Palace squats down as if she has spent her entire life in this forest.

This is the first sentence of what appears to be a preface or prologue. It is short, only five more sentences, but the opening line is long. If you don't believe me, try writing it out a hundred times on the board. Personally, I like adjectives but when they are used willy-nilly as in ancient forest, I begin to wonder. So the forest is ancient. What does an ancient forest look like? Like the Redwoods of California? That's pretty ancient. But from the names given we can assume this is in Russia, so what does an ancient forest look like in Russia? How is the reader to know? How is the reader to form an image, which the author obviously wants the reader to do, as she's using adjectives for a reason. Or is she? Ancient could look like many different things, even though almost all forests are pretty old relative to the people that populate them. So in point of fact, ancient used in this sentence is like deadwood.

As well, what is the difference in squatting between someone who has not been in a forest forever and someone who has? Is there some special pose that I should be aware of? Again, there is a push to create an image in the reader's mind but fails to do so concretely...or even vaguely for that matter.

By the end of this short prologue we learn that a baby has been born.

Chapter 1:

Darya Borisovna Spiridova is startled awake by a persistent knock at her front door.

So this begins with a character waking up. A cliched and therefore quite noncreative way to begin a story. The next lines are curious:

Butterflies flutter against her skin, weave their way around her silver curls, rustle under the covers. A cloud of butterflies floats out of the bedroom and into the vestibule.

I can't tell if this is a metaphor or to be taken literally. In any case, the image is funny; I'm reminded of a scene from Ace Ventura. I read on for this reason but lose interest as the narrative descends into back story with Russian words interspersed to create a sense of place.

First thing said:

"May I help you, Madame?"

Despite my criticism above, there is a scene in the opening, though it takes a while for something meaningful to happen.

Verdict: Fail

Theodore Moracht

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