Tense psychological mystery set in London
Historical novel set in Russia
16th July 2021
The Tsarina’s Daughter by Ellen Alpsten – historical novel set in Russia 1723-1741
We were first introduced to Elizabeth Petrovna Romanova, daughter of Peter the Great and Catherine 1 of Russia in Tsarina, Ellen Alpsten’s first novel in the Romanov series. Here, the story is taken up pretty much where the first left us, but The Tsarina’s Daughter is tightly enough crafted to work well as a stand-alone.
Tsarevna Elizabeth is beautiful, clever, spoiled and strong-willed. She wants for nothing and anticipates her marriage to King Louis XV of France, dreaming of ruling in Versailles. Then, one fateful day, she and her sister, Anoushka, defy their parents’ rules and explore the sacred oak grove, which is commonly believed to be cursed. There, they encounter an evil spirit, a Leshy, who foretells their futures. This puzzling prophesy dogs Elizabeth and influences many of her future decisions.
From that time on, Elizabeth’s idyllic world is turned on its head and she faces a series of disappointments, losses and challenges. Her beloved father dies and her mother takes the throne, Louis XV announces his engagement to someone else and the closeness she has felt to her sister is lost when the latter becomes engaged to the odious Karl von Holstein. The Court becomes a very dangerous place for Elizabeth and fate deals her one blow after another, as she attempts to negotiate the dangerous waters of Russian politics at that time.
The Tsarina’s Daughter has many fairy tale elements but these are counterbalanced by the characterisation and the setting. These are no two-dimensional fairy tale characters, but instead a cast of fully developed, often funny and always unforgettable characters. We are allowed to witness Elizabeth as the tribulations of her life help her to develop from a spoilt princess to a strong and resourceful woman who has to decide between her loyalty to Russia and her loyalty to those individuals she loves.
The setting, too, is firmly grounded in reality. The novel gives us a real taste of the Russia of that period. Its sheer size is emphasised in the lengthy journeys the characters take from one place to the other. The weather is ever present too, from the extremes of Winter, with its dangerous frosts and snows and then the relief and joy that Spring brings. We are made acutely aware of the beauty of the country, but most of all, Alpsten ensures that we are informed about the contrasts between rich and poor, from the vast, lavish wealth of Imperial Russia to the abject poverty of the starving people.
This is a very weighty tome, full of wonderful description of landscapes, costumes, jewels, food. Every page sparkles with colour. Nor does Alpsten shy away from the gruesome and the grotesque; scenes of torture are described in the same intricate detail as sumptuous feasts. It could easily have been hard-going to get through it, but that is far from the truth. The story gallops along at some lick and keeps you completely engaged from first to last. I absolutely loved it and can’t wait for the third in the series.
Ellen for the TripFiction Team
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