Tsarina

Ellen Alpsten. St. Martin’s, $27.99 (480p) ISBN 978-1-250-21443-0
Alpsten’s overlong but ultimately rewarding debut chronicles the life of the first woman to rule Imperial Russia. In 1725, Peter the Great dies without a male heir old enough to rule, and his second wife, Catherine Alexeyevna, schemes for a place in the succession. Alpsten flashes back to Catherine’s past, beginning with her birth as a peasant in 1684 and the poverty and abuse she suffers until her beauty catches the eye of Alexander Menshikov, the czar’s closest friend, when Russia’s wars with Sweden brings its army to her home near the Baltic Sea. Peter is drawn to her sexuality and fearlessness and takes her as a mistress. None of her 12 pregnancies with him result in a male heir, but her shrewdness helps cement her relationship with the czar, who marries her in 1712 and crowns her czarina in 1724. Catherine bonds with Menshikov and others as a way to cope with Peter’s philandering and cruelty, even as his vision transforms a once-hidebound nation with a series of modernizing reforms. Though the prose can be clumsy and the time spent on Catherine’s early years feels superfluous, Alpsten shines once she puts Catherine in Peter’s orbit. Lovers of Russian history, strong women protagonists, and sweeping historicals will savor this vivid portrait. (Nov.)
Reviewed on : 09/14/2020
Release date: 10/13/2020
Genre: Fiction
Compact Disc - 978-1-250-76997-8
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