Author: Ellen Alpsten
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Published: 10 November 2020
In 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 voice 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 bedchambers – 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?
The first part was amazing! It was wonderful to see Marta as she grew up as a serf. She was sold into another man’s house as a servant by her step-mother. There she sees the cruel world of men and how they operate. Marta manages to get away and finds a preacher’s family to live with before her life is turned upside down by the war between Russia and Sweden. When the town she lives in falls to the Russia she is taken into the camp and manages, by luck mostly, to ingratiate herself into the upper echelons of Russia aristocracy and soon Peter. This is where it went down for me.
I found the second half a bit boring to be honest. There were many pages and pages of sex, pregnancy, and miscarriages. After Marta finds her way into Peter’s bed, there wasn’t much intrigue for me. Later on, when Marta can no longer have children, and Peter takes on a younger mistress there is a small part where we see Marta be ruthless by poisoning the mistress with smallpox. Other than that, there wasn’t much ruthlessness or ambition seen.
Even before she became Peter’s lover and wife, her way of ingratiating herself into the Russia aristocracy was by luck. There was a Russian general who saved her from being raped and then Peter’s right hand man, Menshikov, sees her and likes her. He invites her to his tent with his girlfriend, mistress, whatever the term would be here. Daria and Marta become friends and that’s what helps her with staying in with the higher-ups. I mean she’s sweet and has no intentions of being with Menshikov, which is the reason Daria doesn’t hate her.
While it wasn’t my cup of tea, it would be great for fans of historical romantic fiction.
Happy Reading Darlings!