Review: Blood Red Snow White by Marcus Sedgwick

Friday, October 21, 2016
Title: Blood Red Snow White
Author: Marcus Sedgwick
Genre: historical fiction
Series: N/A
Pages: 320
Published: expected October 25 2016
Source: ARC from publishers
Rating: 3/5

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.

Russia wakes from a long sleep and marches to St Petersburg to claim her birthright. Her awakening will mark the end for the Romanovs, and the dawn of a new era that changed the world. Arthur, journalist and writer, was part of it all. He left England and fell in love with Russia and a Russian woman. This is his story.

First and foremost: this is not a fairytale retelling; don't let that cover or title fool you. There are elements of Russian fairy tales to be found in Marcus Sedgwick's newest Blood Red Snow White, but this is a book about Russia. It's often lyrical and poetic in its short, frequently-changing course but as with most books by this author, it is not a straightforward tale. This is a book that is one-third dreamy folk talk, one-third spy mystery, one-third historical fiction romance. It's an interesting mash of ideas and genres for one book with less than three hundred fifty pages, and only some of which really succeed.

The first section of the novel (titled A Russian Fairy Tale) is undoubtedly the best. This is the area most like a fairy tale -- folksy, with layered meaning and intent. The story of Russia waking into its Communist society is told subtly and magically. It was 5/5 stars for me and the highlight of the book despite only lasting 71 pages. The One Night in Moscow follows this auspicious  beginning and squanders it.  So many chapters primarily concerned with spying and Ransome -- both of which held much less interest and exactly zero emotional investment. 

Part III of three of the novel is aptly titled A Fairytale, Ending and this final narrative held a lot of emotion that had been sorely lacking in the addition before. Though not as mystical or alluring as the beginning of the novel was, it was a solid if somewhat predictable ending for an ultimately uneven read. Marcus Sedgwick is a clever man who writes creative novels; books that are often told in unique and original ways. Sometimes his methodology works better than others, and I am happy that at least this one was a better experience for me than his last.

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