- Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
- Publication Date: March 15, 2022
- Author: Ellen Alpsten
- Genre: Historical Fiction | Women’s Fiction
- Page Count: 512
Welcome to the March 15th stop on the Book Tour. Many thanks to St. Martin’s Press for the Advance Reader Copy of the book and for the media assets.
Born into the House of Romanov to the all-powerful Peter the Great and his wife, Catherine, a former serf, beautiful Tsarevna Elizabeth is the envy of the Russian empire. She is insulated by luxury and spoiled by her father, who dreams for her to marry King Louis XV of France and rule in Versailles. But when a woodland creature gives her a Delphic prophecy, her life is turned upside down. Her volatile father suddenly dies, her only brother has been executed and her mother takes the throne of Russia.
As friends turn to foe in the dangerous atmosphere of the Court, the princess must fear for her freedom and her life. Fate deals her blow after blow, and even loving her becomes a crime that warrants cruel torture and capital punishment: Elizabeth matures from suffering victim to strong and savvy survivor. But only her true love and their burning passion finally help her become who she is. When the Imperial Crown is left to an infant Tsarevich, Elizabeth finds herself in mortal danger and must confront a terrible dilemma – seize the reins of power and harm an innocent child, or find herself following in the footsteps of her murdered brother.
Hidden behind a gorgeous, wildly decadent façade, the Russian Imperial Court is a viper’s den of intrigue and ambition. Only a woman possessed of boundless courage and cunning can prove herself worthy to sit on the throne of Peter the Great.
My Thoughts & Opinions
The Tsarina’s Daughter is the sequel to Tsarina. Although is is the second novel, it can be read as a standalone without any problems. However, to get the full flavor of this historical fiction, I do recommend that one reads the first book before reading this one.
There are numerous characters and luckily, there is a cast of characters listing that outlines the who is who in the story. Truthfully, it was a blessing to have this as it helped me navigate the narrative a lot better. Especially since different names were used interchangably throughout the novel. Each of the characters were well developed. I didn’t particularly care for any of them until later in the story when many of them have matured or grown old.
Insofar as the storyline goes, it is a little longwinded. But it is probably because a certain atmosphere needed to be established — bejeweled monarchs, impoverished villages, and extravagant palaces.
For the most part, The Tsarina’s Daughter is an enjoyable read. However, I didn’t quite appreciate the sprinkle of fantasy when the forest spirit prophesized the fates of Lizenka and Anoushka. To me, fantasy no matter how minute it is to the novel’s entirety has no place is an otherwise great historical fiction. Overall, four satisfying stars.
I received a physical ARC from St. Martin’s Press for this book tour. The review herein is completely my own and contains my honest thoughts and opinions.
Read an Excerpt
In the Winter Palace, St. Nicholas Day, 6th December 1741
Ivan is innocent – my little nephew is a baby, and as pure as only a one-year-old can be. But
tonight, at my order, the infant Tsar will be guilty as charged.
I fight the urge to pick him up and kiss him; it would only make things worse. Beyond
his nursery door, there is a low buzzing sound, like of angry bees ready to swarm the Winter
Palace. Soldier’s boots scrape and shuffle. Spurs clink like stubby vodka glasses and bayonets
are being fixed to muskets. These are the sounds of things to come. The thought spikes my
heart with dread.
There is no other choice. It is Ivan, or me. Only one of us can rule Russia, the other
one condemned to a living death. Reigning Russia is a right that has to be earned as much as
inherited: he and my cousin, the Regent, doom the country to an eternity under a foreign
yoke. The realm will be lost; the invisible holy bond between Tsar and people irretrievably
I, Elizabeth, am the only surviving child of Peter the Great’s fifteen sons and
daughters. Tonight, if I hesitate too long, I might become the last of my siblings to die.
Curse the Romanovs! I in vain try to bar the prophecy, which has blighted my life,
from my thoughts. Puddles form on the parquet floor as slush drips from my boots; their
worn, thigh-high leather soaked from my dash across St. Petersburg. Despite my being an
Imperial Princess – the Tsarevna Elizabeth Petrovna Romanova – no footman had hooked a
bear skin across my lap to protect me against the icy wind and driving snow while I sat snug
in a sled; I had no muff to raise to my face in that special graceful gesture of the St.
Petersburg ladies, the damy. My dash towards my date with destiny had been clandestine:
snowfall veiled the flickering lights of the lanterns and shrouded the city. Mortal fear drove
me on, hurrying over bridges, dodging patrolled barriers – the shlagbaumy – and furtively
crossing the empty prospects, where my hasty passage left a momentary trace of warmth in
the frosty air.
This was a night of momentous decisions that I would have to live with, forever. An
anointed and crowned Tsar may not be killed, even once he is deposed, as it sets a dangerous
precedent. Yet he may not live either – at least not in the mind of the Russian people or
according to the diplomatic dispatches sent all over Europe.
What then is to become of Ivan?
I feel for his limp little hand. I simply cannot resist – never could – nuzzling his
chubby, rosy fingers, which are still too small to bear the Imperial seal. We call this game a
butterfly’s kiss; it makes him giggle and squeal, and me dissolve with tenderness. I suck in
his scent of the talcum powder blended for his sole use in Grasse – vanilla and bergamot, the
Tsar’s perfume – taking stock for a lifetime. The men outside fall quiet. They are waiting for
my decision that will both save and damn me. The thought sears my soul.
In Ivan’s nursery, the lined French damask drapes are drawn. Thick, potbellied clouds
hide the December new moon and stars, giving this hour a dense and dreadful darkness.
During the day, the seagulls’ cries freeze on their beaks, the chill of night grates skin raw.
Any light is as scarce and dear as everything else in St. Petersburg. The candle sellers’ shops,
which smell of bees’ wax, flax, and sulphur, do brisk business with both Yuletide and
Epiphany approaching. On the opposite quay, the shutters on the flat fa ades of the city’s
palaces and houses are closed, the windows behind them dark. They are swathed in the same
brooding silence as the Winter Palace. I am in my father’s house, but this does not mean that I
am safe. Far from it – it means quite the opposite. The Winter Palace’s myriad corridors,
hundreds of rooms and dozens of staircases can be as welcoming as a lover’s embrace or as
dangerous as a snake pit.
It is Ivan or me: fate has mercilessly driven us towards this moment. The courtiers
shun me: no-one would bet a Kopeck on my future. Will I be sent to a remote convent, even
though I do not have an ounce of nun’s flesh about me, as the Spanish envoy, the Duke of
Liria, so memorably described it? I had once been forced to see such an unfortunate woman
in her cell; as intended, the sight instilled a terror that would last me a lifetime. Her shorn
head was covered in chilblains and her eyes shone with madness. A hunchbacked dwarf,
whose tongue had been torn out, was her sole companion, both of them shuffling about in
rotten straw like pigs in their sties. Or perhaps there is a sled waiting for me, destination
Siberia? I know about this voyage of no return; I have heard the cries, seen the dread and
smelled the fear of the banished culprits, be they simple peasants or a Prince of Russia. By
the first anniversary of their sentence, all had succumbed to the harsh conditions of the East.
Maybe a dark cell in the Trubetzkoy Bastion, the place nobody ever leaves in one piece, will
swallow me; or things will be simpler, and I am fated to end up face down in the Neva,
drifting between the thick floes of ice, my body being crushed and shredded by their sheer
The soldiers’ impatience is palpable. Just one more breath! Ivan’s wet-nurse is asleep,
slumped on her stool, resting amidst his toys: the scattered pieces of a Matryoshka doll,
wooden boats, a mechanical silver bear that opens its jaws and raises its paws when wound
up, and a globe inlaid with Indian ivory and Belgian maille. One of the nurse’s pale breasts
is still bare from the last feed; she was chosen for her ample alabaster bosom in Moscow’s
raucous German quarter. Ivan is well cared for: Romanov men are of weaker stock than
Romanov women, even if no one ever dares to say so. I celebrated his first year as a time of
wonder, offering my little nephew a cross studded with rubies and emeralds for his
christening, a gift fit for a Tsar, and put myself in debt to raise an ebony colt in my stables as
his Yuletide present.
Ivan’s breathing is growing heavier. The regiment outside his door weighs on his
dreams. As I touch both his sides, his warmth sends a jolt through my fingers, hitting a Gold
in my heart. Oh, to hold him one more time and feel his delightful weight in my arms. I pull
my hands back, folding them, though the time for prayers has passed. No pilgrimage can ever
absolve me from this sin, even if I slide across the whole of Russia on my knees. Ivan’s
lashes flutter, his chin wobbles, he smacks his pink and shiny lips. I cannot bear to see him
cry, despite the saying of Russian serfs: ‘Another man’s tears are only water.’
The lightest load will be your greatest burden. The last prophecy is coming to pass.
Spare me, I plea – but I know this is my path, and I will have to walk it to the end, over the
pieces of my broken heart. Ivan slides back into slumber, long, dark lashes cast shadows on
his round cheeks and his tiny fists open, showing pink, unlined palms. The sight stabs me.
Not even the most adept fortune-teller could imagine what the future has in store for Ivan. It
is a thought that I refrain from thinking to its end.
Beyond the door utter silence reigns. Is this the calm before the storm my father
taught me to fear when we sailed the slate-coloured waters of the Bay of Finland? His fleet
had been rolling at anchor in the far distance, masts rising like a marine forest. ‘This is
forever Russia,’ he had proudly announced. ‘No Romanov must ever surrender what has been
gained by spilling Russian blood.’ In order to strengthen Russia, Father had spared no-one.
My elder half-brother Alexey, his son and heir, had paid the ultimate price for doubting
Russia’s path to progress.
Steps approach. My time with Ivan, and life as we know it, is over. I wish this were
not necessary. There is a knock on the nursery door, a token rasp of knuckles; so light, it
belies its true purpose. It is time to act. Russia will take no more excuses. The soldiers’
nerves are as taut as the springs in a bear trap. I have promised them the world: in a night like
this, destinies are forged, fortunes made and lost.
‘Elizabeth Petrovna Romanova?’ I hear the captain of the Imperial Preobrazhensky
Regiment addressing me. His son is my godchild, but can I trust him completely for that?
Suddenly, I feel like drowning and shield Ivan’s cradle with my body. In the gilt-framed
mirrors I see my face floating ghostly pale above my dark green uniform jacket; my
ash-blonde curly hair has slid down from beneath a fur cap. On a simple leather thong around
my neck hangs the diamond-studded icon of St Nicholas that is priceless to me. They will
have to prise it from my dead body to get it.
I am almost thirty-one years old. Tonight, I shall not betray my blood.
‘I am ready,’ I say, my voice trembling, bracing myself, as the door bursts open and
the soldiers swarm in.
Everything comes at a price.