Spring 1699: Illegitimate, destitute and strikingly beautiful, Marta has survived the brutal Russian winter in her remote Baltic village. Sold by her family into household labour at the age of fifteen, Marta survives by committing a crime that will force her to go on the run.
A world away, Russia’s young ruler, Tsar Peter I, passionate and iron-willed, has a vision for transforming the traditionalist Tsardom of Russia into a modern, Western empire. Countless lives will be lost in the process.
Falling prey to the Great Northern War, Marta cheats death at every turn, finding work as a washerwoman at a battle camp. One night at a celebration, she encounters Peter the Great. Relying on her wits and her formidable courage, and fuelled by ambition, desire and the sheer will to live, Marta will become Catherine I of Russia. But her rise to the top is ridden with peril; how long will she survive the machinations of Peter’s court, and more importantly, Peter himself?
I love historical fiction because it’s not just entertaining, it can open up a world we often know little about, the past. It takes us into the lives of kings and queens, peasants and warriors! Tsarina by Ellen Alpsten takes us right through the lives of very different people, embodying them in the story of one woman who rises from poverty and abuse to become one of the most powerful women in Russia.
You need a great story to make historical fiction grab you and take you on a rollicking great adventure into the past and this novel gives you this in spade loads. It provides us with a slice of history and a portal into the court of Peter The Great. Here we are embroiled in madness, depravity and the fear that gripped the court. Yet the writer also manages to bring to life those very powerful feelings that Russian’s had for their country and their Tsar, even when at a whim, he could destroy their worlds.
What makes this all the more addictive, is that it’s all seen through the eyes and mind, not of the Tsar, but the women who rose from the life of a peasant, to become Catherine I of Russia! The writer invokes the setting and the period, by not glossing over this often violent world Marta grows up in, the sexual violence, the exploitation of people, the cruelty, but partners it with a women, who is capable of creating from this world a life in which she too can exploit her power over those around her.
As a character the Tsarina is an accomplished piece of writing. She strides through the story in all her flawed magnificence. She is caring and capable of passionate love, she laughs and despairs in equal fashion and it creates a character of such richness you find yourself obsessed with her every action. Ellen Alpsten has taken a figure from history and created an imposing women whose life always seemed to be lived balanced on a knife edge, like she was walking across a tightrope, always in danger from the whims of the Tsar and the wiles of other women determined to replace her. She has a keen intelligence that will help you understand, why this women succeeded where so many failed, she outlined the passionate and often incredibly cruel Peter The Great.
Many thanks to the author and publisher for the ARC in return for an honest review.
About the author
Ellen Alpsten was born and raised in the Kenyan highlands. Upon graduating from the l’Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris, she worked as a news-anchor for Bloomberg TV London. While working gruesome night shifts on breakfast TV, she started to write in earnest, every day, after work, a nap and a run. Today, Ellen works as an author and as a journalist for international publications such as Vogue, Standpoint, and CN Traveller. She lives in London with her husband, three sons, and a moody fox red Labrador. Tsarina is her debut novel.
You can follow the author on Twitter @EALpsten_Author