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The Ice Swan by J'nell Ciesielski

I didn't realize I needed to be swept away to WW1 German-Occupied Paris and get to know a Russian refugee princess and the second son of a Scottish Duke who worked as a surgeon as a hospital in Montmare, but hey, here we are.

Seriously, my husband does this thing when I'm reading in bed at night, he rolls over and sighs, unwilling to ask me to put away the book, but unable to sleep until I turn off my light and go to bed. His sighs get progressively louder, progressively more dramatic but last night I didn't care. I read the first 200 pages or so in one sitting.

I inhaled the book, swept away by Ciesielski's intelligent, lush prose and a story that truly took me away from suburban Colorado for a few hours. Something about two people who have suffered finding a way to each other (with a marriage of convenience thrown in, yes...). It's the kind of romance I love to read--two real people, with real problems, overcoming them together. Were there unnecessary emotional misunderstandings that seemed to service the plot, more than an accurate depiction of the relationship? Yes, but I'll forgive them because I had such a good time.

The most infuriating character, by far, was the mother of the MC. She was a fallen Russian aristocrat, trained from childhood to put her comfort and desires before all else, and this training does not serve her well as a refugee in Paris. I thought that was an illogical but honest depiction of human nature, and one that Ciesielski did a good job explaining and developing. I think a lot of it was through dialogue--the character development came through the word choice of the character, and how she explained herself and how she reacted to small situations. It came across as annoying, for sure, but also as a coping mechanism? This, of course, was all filtered through the impressions of the MC, who had her own biases. In short, the trauma of the moment was taken into account by the author, and each character acted accordingly, with allowances made for preconceived notions. It was well done, well thought out, and smart.

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