By Ellen Alpsten
What it’s about?
Illegitimate, destitute and strikingly beautiful, Marta has survived the brutal Russian winter in her remote Baltic
Sold by her family into household labour at the age of fifteen, Marta survives by committing a crime that will force her to go on the run.
A world away, Russia’s young ruler, Tsar Peter I, passionate and iron-willed, has a vision for transforming the traditionalist Tsardom of Russia into a modern, Western empire.
Countless lives will be lost in the process.
Falling prey to the Great Northern War, Marta cheats death at every turn, finding work as a washerwoman at a battle camp.
One night at a celebration, she encounters Peter the Great. Relying on her wits and her formidable courage, and fuelled by ambition, desire and the sheer will to live, Marta will become Catherine I of Russia.
But her rise to the top is ridden with
peril; how long will she survive the machinations of Peter’s court, and more importantly, Peter himself?
What I think:
I really enjoyed this book.
It’s a chunky read, but the story flows and there is so much action it’s hard to put down.
Peter the Great’s Russia is vividly and sometimes shockingly recreated. Peasant villages, small towns, battlefields, cities and palaces. Alpsten’s description takes the reader back in time and immerses you in the Russia if the past.
Catherine is an astonishing character. Illegitimate and growing up in abject poverty, young Marta is spirited and resilient. A split second decision to fight back when a man types to sexually assault her leads to her being sold into his household and changes the direction of her life forever.
Throughout the book Marta/Catherine has to take extraordinary action to survive. Even as Tsarina she is never secure from the court factions and fickle nature of the Tsar.
The contrast between wealth and poverty in Russia at the time is really striking. Villages are completely destroyed and peasants starving so Peter can wage war and pursue glory in the name of Russia.
The most astonishing thing about the novel is the social life of the Russian aristocracy! So much vodka and sex!
Peter is a man of huge appetites in every sense of the word and Catherine shares this with him until the end of his life.
There are some truly shocking and poignant scenes in this book. This most extraordinary thing is that it is based on the true story of Catherine I.
This Alpsten’s debut novel and it is clearly a labour of love. It is so well researched and full of atmospheric detail.
I don’t know very much about this period of Russian history and found it fascinating. I was really rooting for Catherine throughout the novel.
If you like historical fiction told from a female perspective then you are going to love this book. Compelling from start to end and make you want to find out more.
Tsarina was published this week and you can order from:
Waterstones: click here
Amazon.co.uk: click here
About the author:
Ellen Alpsten was born and raised in the Kenyan highlands, before attending L’Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris. Whilst studying for her Msc in PPE she won the Grande École short story competition with her novella Meeting Mr. Gandhi and was encouraged to
continue writing. Upon graduating, she worked as a producer and presenter for
Bloomberg TV in London. She contributes to international publications such as Vogue,
Standpoint and Conde Nast Traveller. Tsarina is her first novel. She lives in London with her husband and three children.
Follow her on Twitter: click here
Thank you Bloomsbury and Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for inviting me on to the blog tour for Tsarina.