Tsarina

Tsarina

A Novel

Book - 2020
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"Before there was Catherine the Great, there was Catherine Alexeyevna: the first woman to rule Russia in her own right. Ellen Alpsten's rich, sweeping first-person narrative is the story of her rise to power. 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 on a stake 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"-- Provided by publisher.
Publisher: New York : St. Martin's Press, [2020]
Edition: First U.S. edition
Copyright Date: ©2020
ISBN: 9781250214430
1250214432
Characteristics: 470 pages ; 25 cm

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kwylie04
Jan 09, 2021

Ellen Alpsten brings Petrine Russia to life in all of its glory, excess, and brutality in this novel about the woman who rose from the lowest peasantry to become the first woman to rule all of Russia in her own right, rather than as a consort. Although the novel's pacing is a bit uneven in places, 'Tsarina' is overall an excellent read for any lover of historical fiction and who has an interest in Tsarist Russia. However, I would add the warning that the reader be aware that the novel contains several scenes with **explicit sexual content**, some of them **nonconsensual**.

Alpsten chose a fascinating subject. As she stated in her afterword, little is known of the woman known as Catherine I of Russia before the first records of her show her as a maid working for a Lutheran priest. That gave Alpsten plenty of room to imagine and extrapolate, and get Catherine's or, rather, Marta's character in place to allow her to fit into the situations she came to be in once the recorded records of her life begin.

Perhaps my only real quibble with the story is that the pacing can be uneven at times. While most of the story is engrossing, there are times when it just slows to a crawl and you end up wanting to skip ahead with impatience to get to where things become interesting again.

In the end, though, I am very glad to have read this book. While Catherine and Peter were not the first Romanovs to rule Russia, it really feels like this is that royal dynasty's true beginnings, when they began to rise to their greatest heights (where they would fall catastrophically just two centuries later). A great read.

Found this among Columbus Metropolitan Library's Quick Pick collection.

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