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Historical novel set in early 20th Century PETROGRAD

29th November 2023

The Witch’s Daughter by Imogen Edwards-Jones, historical novel set in early 20th Century Petrograd.

Historical novel set in early 20th Century Petrograd

In The Witches of St Petersburg the novel that precedes this one – the focus was on Grand Duchess Militza and her sister Anastasia, both queens of the Dark Arts. This is Nadezhda’s story, the younger daughter of Grand Duchess Militza and Grand Duke Peter. It delves into black magic at the Russian Court, with a touch of love and romance along the way, and the story is populated with strong women. The story is also packed with Russian history: “…it has taken me years to research…” says the author.

In the early pages of the novel, the murder of Rasputin takes place on 30 December 1916 and the story moves through the years to 1919. Rasputin has left behind a letter and in it – and depending who murdered him because he could clearly see his death coming – he sets out his prophesies about the future of the country. We discover who engineered his death, so there is some sense of how things will play out. The author is gifted at scene setting, conjuring up the opulence in the rich households of the aristocracy, starkly contrasted with the utter chaos and wanton destruction of revolution, overlaid with a sense of the supernatural. We discover the terrible cost of war on the country. The end of the bourgeois way of life was nigh, although naturally members of the aristocracy clung on to what they had.

All around me there is treachery, cowardice and deceit” – Tsar Nicholas II, on the day of his abdication.

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Much of the story is set against a Petrograd backdrop (having changed to Petrograd from its original St Petersburg in 1914 as the latter felt too German. It then reverted once again to St Petersburg in 1991, having passed through a period of being called Leningrad). There are multiple descriptions of the weather as the country froze “…minus twenty degrees and the wind stung like a Cossack’s whip...”, to descriptions of stifling Summer heat; these all add texture to the colourful story.

This is just one period in Russia’s tumultuous history, where the people were set against each other and where cruelty and death were the norm. The Russian Civil War gained momentum after Lenin took the lead in 1917, with escalating carnage as the revolutionaries wielded their new-found power, whilst, of course, WW2 was still raging across continents.

The focus on Nadezha and her determination to escape the massacres, with her rare and powerful book of magic, adds an original and novel dimension to a story that has been a popular subject for many authors over the years. Given the theme, it often reminded me of The Book of Perilous Dishes by Doina Rusti, (TR: James Christian Brown) set in later 18th Century Bucharest, a picaresque novel, the story of a slave cook who was in possession of a witch’s cookbook.

This novel is a surprising turn in genre for the author, as she has hitherto been well known for her Babylon series, where she goes behind the scenes of a hotel, beach resort, fashion house and more….all entertaining reads with some eye opening observations and facts.

The Witch’s Daughter is a satisfying and informative read.

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