Author: Ellen Alpsten
Rating: 4 out of 5
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.
This was a solid read, and the characters and setting were well-done and believable, but…these people were horrible. Seriously. Catherine rose from nothing to be the most powerful woman in the country, but the things these people do to each other and their ideas of entertainment are horrible. Believable, sadly, but horrible.
Most of the book tells Catherine’s story from the time she left her family, her struggles amidst the horrors of war, how she met Peter and their relationship. The blurb makes it sound like most of the book is about Catherine’s struggle to take the crown, but that’s only a very small portion. She’s a fascinating woman, but the cruelty of her and her world made this a tough book to read.
Ellen Alpsten was born in Kenya Tsarina is her debut novel.
(Galley courtesy of St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review.)