Author: Ellen Alpsten
Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Release Date: November 10, 2020
St. Petersburg, 1725. Peter the Great lies dying in his magnificent Winter Palace. The weakness and treachery of his only son has driven his father to an appalling act of cruelty and left the empire without an heir. Russia risks falling into chaos. Into the void steps the woman who has been by his side for decades: his second wife, Catherine Alexeyevna, as ambitious, ruthless and passionate as Peter himself.
Born into devastating poverty, Catherine used her extraordinary beauty and shrewd intelligence to ingratiate herself with Peter’s powerful generals, finally seducing the Tsar himself. But even amongst the splendor and opulence of her new life—the lavish feasts, glittering jewels, and candle-lit hours in Peter’s bedchamber—she knows the peril of her position. Peter’s attentions are fickle and his rages powerful; his first wife is condemned to a prison cell, her lover impaled alive in Red Square. And now Catherine faces the ultimate test: can she keep the Tsar’s death a secret as she plays a lethal game to destroy her enemies and take the Crown for herself?
From the sensuous pleasures of a decadent aristocracy, to the incense-filled rites of the Orthodox Church and the terror of Peter’s torture chambers, the intoxicating and dangerous world of Imperial Russia is brought to vivid life. Tsarina is the story of one remarkable woman whose bid for power would transform the Russian Empire.”
In St. Petersburg in 1725, the Tsar Peter the Great is dying. His second wife, Catherine, is by his side, but he doesn’t have a clear heir. As the Tsar dies, Catherine needs to keep his death a secret while she figures out how to rule the country as a Tsarina. This story shows Catherine’s life, from when she was a washing maid, to when she was saved by the Tsar and made Tsarina Catherine.
This was quite a “rags to riches” story. Catherine was born in a small hut, where she was later sold as a washing maid. She was abused, but after many attempts to escape this life, she stumbled onto the Tsar’s war camp. Her life was changed when she caught the Tsar’s eye and began a romance. It is mostly based on Catherine’s real life, though some parts had to be filled in for the story.
Some of scenes in this story were graphic and disturbing. There was rape, domestic violence, abuse, and murder. The women in the story experienced every kind of pregnancy complication, including most of the twelve children that Catherine gave birth to dying either at birth or shortly after. There were plenty of these scenes, which could be disturbing, but they showed how dangerous life was for a woman during that time period, no matter her social standing.
This was a long story that gave many details about Catherine’s life. However, by the end, I was glued to the page and wanted to keep reading more. The ending was intense and surprising to me because I wasn’t familiar with this time period.
I enjoyed this historical fiction story. It would be great for anyone interested in Russian historical fiction.
Thank you St. Martin’s Press for providing a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
What to read next:
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
The Lost Queen by Signe Pike
About the author:
ELLEN ALPSTEN was born and raised in the Kenyan highlands. Upon graduating from L’Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris, she worked as a news anchor for Bloomberg TV London. Whilst working gruesome night shifts on breakfast TV, she started to write in earnest, every day, after work and a nap. Today, Ellen works as an author and as a journalist for international publications such as Vogue, Standpoint and CN Traveller. She lives in London with her husband, three sons and a moody fox red Labrador. Tsarina is her debut novel.
Have you read Tsarina? What did you think of it?