A conspiracy theorist's dream, The Russian Renaissance ties together history, suspense, action, and a brief environmental interlude as three main characters are drawn together by forces beyond their control. As Constantine attempts to solve a centuries-old mystery, his brother, Eugene, tries to protect Asiyah from the demons that chase them both. Amidst heavy artillery and merciless manipulation, all three of them become involved in a revolution that may very well change the course of Russia's, and Kazakhstan's, future.
The story jumps between all three relevant points of view, catching the characters just as they reach their "points of no return". Slow-moving, the author takes the time to introduce us to each one, elucidating personal histories and technical expertise. The information becomes vitally important later in order to understand motivations, reactions, and the reasons they were drawn into the complex web of intrigue that binds them. As a reader, I found it easy to relate to both Constantine and Eugene. They are likeable characters, and beyond that, they are more than fighting machines; they come across as genuine people, and I rooted for them through every last one of their confrontations with momentary enemies.
With that said, I had immense difficulty connecting with Asiyah. Something about her personality just never seemed to resonate, and several of her behaviors -- her sudden trust in Eugene, for one -- had me arching a disbelieving eyebrow. Even in moments when all seemed lost, my worry for her safety never reached the level of concern garnered by the Sokolov brothers. This may be a matter of personal preference, or perhaps she is simply less complex of a person than I am trying to make her become.
For history buffs, this book has a storyline that is well thought-out, weaving seamlessly into events ranging from the Russian Revolution to the constitutional crisis of 1993. For those with a less thorough grounding in Russian history, enough information is given so that you won't have to run off to the nearest encyclopedia in order to keep up. Even so, one of the story's greatest strengths is its ability to spark a reader's interest in real-life events, if only to determine the point at which the fiction begins.
Towards the end of the novel, things began to get dicier. Information about various artillery was presented as "information dumps", which left my mind slightly boggled and more than a little bored. Also, the reveal of the entire conspiracy and the subsequent actions felt rushed, and the final denouement played out like a written version of Call of Duty (or a similar video game). In short, the last thirteen percent of the book was disappointing after the first eighty seven. The quality of the writing was similarly inconsistent, with typographical errors, most commonly "Asiayh" for "Asiyah", and awkward sentences peppering otherwise fluid prose. A personal irritant was the lack of indented paragraphs, though I didn't dock any points for it.
As a whole, The Russian Renaissance comes off as an interesting take on Russian history. For those who savor slow-burning build-ups, interspersed with bouts of hand-to-hand combat, this just may be the book for you.
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(Review copy provided by the author)