Chekov with dragons. Mildly steampunkish Dostoevsky. Yes, there will be Russian names, but they are cleverly handled so there is no confusion.
In 1881, two brothers, Kesha and Petya Tarasov—the one interested in philosophy and religion, the other an engineer with dreams of flight; the one a thief of his family’s money and a rebel, the other faithful—are called back from their studies in St. Petersburg to the family fortress on the desolate ice-bound Turkish border to help in the ongoing battle against Turkey. Turkey’s secret weapons are dragons, their bodies full of incendiary gases, which fled Russia one hundred years previously and now aid the enemy. Manning the fortress are Vladimir, the cruel, hard-drinking, cursing father, and his pants-wearing, dragon-slaying, Gatling-gun-swinging favorite daughter, Liza. English allies? spies? get billeted at the fortress, too, and one dark night on his way home from the local tavern, Vladimir is murdered in the snow. Dark, Chekovian family politics ensue, with a mostly happy and satisfying ending.
Scenes in the Russian capitals are spot-on historical fiction, evocative and real. Kesha stumbles upon hidden, forbidden dragon texts and learns the language of shrieks and screams, writes messages in the snow for low-flying dragons to read. Did you know dragons write poetry? The dragons are very well-drawn so you can believe in them, too. The scenes in Turkey are brief but interesting. I would have liked more. In a sequel?
Definitely worth the read—if you don’t mind dragons.