The Jewel of St. Petersburg by Kate Furnivall (Rated: P: mild, S)
Berkley Publishing Group
Published: August 7, 2010
Trade Paperback, 410 pages
Reviewed by Sandra
I can rarely resist a book that either contains the name St. Petersburg in the title or promises a good tale with that city as its backdrop. I wasn’t disappointed as Kate Furnivall wove a tale of intrigue, treachery, loyalty, rebellion and love in pre-revolution Russia.
It is 1910 and Tsar Nicholas Romanov sits on the throne and as the narrative states, “he was the wrong man at the wrong time.” Weak, indecisive, oblivious to the plight of his people, his primary interest in life is his wife, the Tsarina, his 4 daughters and the heir to the throne, Alexei. While ordinary Russians are starving, he, his family, and most of the aristocrats live in opulent surroundings, including the heroine of the story, Valentina Ivanova. She charms the high society of St. Petersburg with both her beauty and her talent for piano. However, to her credit, Valentina wants desperately to be useful, not just spending her days drinking tea, shopping for new dresses and going to balls. Above all, she wants to take care of her younger sister, Katya, who was injured when a bomb exploded at their home.
The bomb attack was orchestrated by the Bolsheviks who were against all aristocrats. To enable her to care for her sister, Valentina becomes a nurse, much to the dismay of her overbearing father and delicate, elegant mother. Moreover, Valentina is expected to make a “good” marriage to a wealthy fellow Russian, a soldier in the Tsar’s army. Enter middle-class, Danish engineer, Jens Friis. Sparks begin to fly, not only between him and Valentina, but also between Stepan Chernov, the man her parents want her to marry. All of this happens as Russian peasants experience food shortages, rising prices, bitter resentment against the Tsar and growing revolutionary fervor.
The author uses excellent descriptions throughout the book. For instance, early on in the story, just after the bomb attack at Valentina’s home, the author writes, “the smoke was pouring out, swallowing the house in greedy gulps.” Referring to the wealthy, “Russians love to display their wealth as ostentatiously as peacocks unfurl their gaudy tails.” Referring to a fireplace, the author says “the fire muttered like an old man in the corner.” Furnivall uses such rich descriptive words that not only do we marvel at her ability, but these descriptions make the reader feel part of the scenes.
There is good character development of the main protagonists. We see Valentina grow in sympathy and understanding of the poor, prompting her to work on their behalf; we like the personality of Jens as he fights for Valentina’s love and shows his concern for the Russian people; we dislike Stepan’s uncaring attitude toward human life as he kills innocent Russians in the name of the Tsar. The reader is held in suspense to the end of the novel – will they all survive as rebellion and revolution swirl around them?
There are some expletives as well as two sexual scenes, but these are neither explicit nor unsavory.
This book kept me enthralled from the first sentence to the last. I recommend it for people who enjoy historical fiction set in the time of the ill-fated Romanovs.
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Disclosure: Thanks to Bronwyn Kienapple from Penguin for sending me this book for review. I was not compensated in any other way, nor told how to rate or review this product.