You guys, I did it again… I read the middle book before the first one. *insert facepalm GIF*
This is a jam-packed book–there’s violence, revolution, friendship, kidnapping, minor romance–and I lived for it! The book follows the narration of three and a half different women. I say “half” because the first and last chapters are narrated by one sister, Luba, while the other forty-some chapters are narrated by Sofya (Luba’s sister), Eliza (their friend), and Varinka (Sofya’s peasant-girl-nanny). So, taking place over the course of 1914 to 1921, this book covers the entirety of WW1 and the Russian Revolution, which is central to each of these characters in their own ways.
Eliza’s an American socialite who (was a real person!) is good friends with Luba and Sofya. As a worldly traveler, she has an appreciation for other cultures and starts the American Central Committee for Russian Relief after she stops hearing from Sofya and her Southampton community is overrun by Russian asylum seekers.
Sofya and Luba are cousins of the Romanov family and therefore, Russian aristocrats who are Bolshevik targets. But their story gets more complicated–after two daring, separate escapes, they lose track of each other and are desperate to reunite…or find any news about each other. But Sofya’s also desperate to reunite with her son who was kidnapped by her nanny Varinka.
She is a little Russian peasant who’s so far under the thumb of a Cheka (secret police) jerk, she actually starts to talk trash about the family who employed her and seems to feel no remorse for kidnapping Sofya’s son. Thank goodness for Varinka’s mother, because without her, I think I would have been even more frustrated with this character.
Which brings me to why I enjoyed the book–the characters were phenomenal and so well-developed! Even Varinka who, frankly, pissed me off, I went through sympathizing for her to gritting my teeth. They were just so well thought out that they were expertly able to move the plot along.
The plot, in and of itself, was another great part of this book. I feel like the three separate, but overlapping storylines must’ve been somewhat complicated to keep straight while writing, but they came out so well. I was thoroughly enthralled throughout reading the novel and was constantly turning the page to find out what happened next. If you’re already interested in history, particularly this time period, I think you’ll find it extra engaging and the dramatic irony (for example, knowing that Sofya and Varinka/her son are so close yet so far away, or when you meet Olga and Tatiana Romanov and they’re so sweet but you know they aren’t gonna make it) will only intensify.
So, if you like historical fiction, you’re almost assuredly going to enjoy this story. Moreover, since it has action and friendship and romance, I do think there are elements that appeal to most audiences.