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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 void steps the woman who has been by his side for decades: his second wife, Catherine Alexeyevna, as ambitious, ruthl 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 void 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 bedchamber—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? From the sensuous pleasures of a decadent aristocracy, to the incense-filled rites of the Orthodox Church and the terror of Peter’s torture chambers, the intoxicating and dangerous world of Imperial Russia is brought to vivid life. Tsarina is the story of one remarkable woman whose bid for power would transform the Russian Empire."


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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 void steps the woman who has been by his side for decades: his second wife, Catherine Alexeyevna, as ambitious, ruthl 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 void 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 bedchamber—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? From the sensuous pleasures of a decadent aristocracy, to the incense-filled rites of the Orthodox Church and the terror of Peter’s torture chambers, the intoxicating and dangerous world of Imperial Russia is brought to vivid life. Tsarina is the story of one remarkable woman whose bid for power would transform the Russian Empire."

30 review for Tsarina

  1. 4 out of 5

    jessica

    when i think of russian rulers, my mind immediately goes to the fall of the romanov family. so reading this was a really enlightening experience to learn about another point in time in the familys history, because i dont think i would have learned about it otherwise. and this does exactly what i want from an historical fiction novel - its takes key people from history and humanises them. they are no longer facts and dates but become characters. granted, i know the author takes creative liberties when i think of russian rulers, my mind immediately goes to the fall of the romanov family. so reading this was a really enlightening experience to learn about another point in time in the familys history, because i dont think i would have learned about it otherwise. and this does exactly what i want from an historical fiction novel - its takes key people from history and humanises them. they are no longer facts and dates but become characters. granted, i know the author takes creative liberties with this story as there is not much known about catherine I in her early years, but shes still an interesting character. i will say that, even though i love historical fiction, this particular time period may not be my thing. the story is very repetitive for a lot of it, bouncing back and forth between war and the birth of children. heirs and political influence were really the only thing that could keep catherine relevant, so i get it, but i started skimming every time they decided to have another kid. so even though i enjoyed learning about catherine I, i found the circumstances surrounding her life to be a bit uninteresting to me personally. but this is an easy book to recommend is you enjoy russian history, royal families, war and political strategy, and historical fiction from the early 2000s (this is a rerelease). thanks st. martins press for the ARC! ↠ 3.5 stars

  2. 4 out of 5

    Liz

    This is an interesting historical fiction that shows that shrewdness and cunning can trump book smarts every time. Catherine Alexeyvana was Peter the Great’s second wife. She was born poor, never learned to read, yet becomes the first woman to rule Russia in her own right. I knew nothing of Peter the Great or Russia in the early 18th century. Russia was still very primitive in those days, but Peter was determined to make it more like the European countries that he so admires. Alpsten totally cap This is an interesting historical fiction that shows that shrewdness and cunning can trump book smarts every time. Catherine Alexeyvana was Peter the Great’s second wife. She was born poor, never learned to read, yet becomes the first woman to rule Russia in her own right. I knew nothing of Peter the Great or Russia in the early 18th century. Russia was still very primitive in those days, but Peter was determined to make it more like the European countries that he so admires. Alpsten totally captures the time, the place, even the weather. (“ a cold that would freeze the phlegm in your throat before you could hawk it up”). Her prose sometimes borders on excessive and in places I felt I was drowning in descriptions. The book portrays the vast amount of men as depraved and women as nothing but sexual chattel. There are numerous sex scenes, including multiple rapes. This is a brutal society, and Alpsten shows us every bit of brutality and mistreatment. This a society of the haves and have nots, serfs are slaves, soldiers are fodder for the Russian war machine. If you have a problem with gruesome scenes, you’re well advised to steer clear of this book. Too often historical fiction is nothing but romance with some historical facts thrown in. I give Alpsten credit for doing her research and providing a better balance. I would have liked a more expanded Author’s Note showing where literary license might have been taken. But a search of Wikipedia shows a fairly close adherence to the facts. My thanks to netgalley and St. Martin’s Press for an advance copy of this book.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Annette

    Catherine Alexeyevna (1684-1727) was of humble beginnings, becoming the second wife of Peter the Great and Empress of Russia from 1725 until her death. “Pulling herself out of poverty and servitude through her intellect, wit, and sensuality, she rose to become one of the most powerful women in Russia.” Village of Livonia, 1699. Marta, as she was known back then, is nine years old. Her childhood brings a vivid portrayal of peasants’ life, meaning pretty much suffering. A merchant from Walk, Vassil Catherine Alexeyevna (1684-1727) was of humble beginnings, becoming the second wife of Peter the Great and Empress of Russia from 1725 until her death. “Pulling herself out of poverty and servitude through her intellect, wit, and sensuality, she rose to become one of the most powerful women in Russia.” Village of Livonia, 1699. Marta, as she was known back then, is nine years old. Her childhood brings a vivid portrayal of peasants’ life, meaning pretty much suffering. A merchant from Walk, Vassily, needs a maidservant. When passing through the village of Livonia, Marta catches his eye. She is sold by her parents into servitude. The town of Walk is something she has never seen before, the number of people crowding the streets, even the number of chimneys – she lost the count, and all the different foods sold by vendors. In the coming weeks, she learns how to make those delicious meals. But life under a big roof with some comforts is not easier. “Loneliness lunged at me like a wolf at a lone traveler, burying its claws into my soul.” And when the kindness touches upon her life, she realizes that she had no idea that such kindness could exist. She finds a home and a purpose. Tsar Peter with August the Strong declare war on mighty Sweden. When the town of Marienburg, where she resides, is under Russian siege, she meets the legendary Russian General Shermetev. At his tent, she meets “the most powerful among the powerful, the tsar’s most loyal and absolute friend,” Menshikov. When she refuses to be a toy between men, Shermetev encourages her with these words: “Use life’s surprises to your advantage. See your power over men like a hand of cards; play them, to trump your life.” Marta is an incredible character. She is born as a serf, thus she is illiterate. But she is observant and a quick learner. She has her high and low moments and in those low moments she receives unexpected help or guidance like she was bound for a higher purpose. The story also offers a vivid portrayal of Peter the Great. A man who fought many battles, who would not tolerate anyone’s disagreement including pope’s, who refused marrying a couple due to religious law not being followed. When it fits Peter, the Russian customs disappear. A very cruel man, bringing many atrocities. The last 30% of the story is a bit drawn-out. The rich historical background, vivid portrayal of Peter’s cruelty and Catherine’s twelve pregnancies and births are surrounded by other dramas and characters and that’s when it gets a bit too much, the focus on Catherine gets lost and the story falls flat in those moments. Some of it could be condensed. My favorite part is the first part of the story, the story of incredible girl named Marta, who in the brutal world meets kind people. This story involves some graphic lust. You can make a point of lust taking place without graphic descriptions. It is certainly a story crafted by a very talented writer. Source: ARC was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Nenia ✨️ Socially Awkward Trash Panda ✨️ Campbell

    Historical dramas were HUGE in the 2000s because of the Other Boleyn Girl and once everyone got sick of Tudor England, people expanded to dramas in other time periods. I was going to say that the summary was giving me strong early-2000s publication vibes, and then I looked at the pub date and realized it was originally published in 2004!!!! THIS IS A RERELEASE!! YAS Somehow I never read this one in my historical fiction frenzy...

  5. 4 out of 5

    CYIReadBooks

    Calling on lovers of historical fiction! Tsarina is a novel that you must read -- especially if you are a fan of Russian history. Tsarina is a novel based on the life of Catherine I, the second wife of Peter the Great. It is an epic tale of the life and times of a serf washerwoman who rose to the crowned position of the Empress of Russia. One can say that Tsarina is like a Cinderella story. It is, and yet it isn't due to the portrayal of the dark side of the rise to glory. That dark side is Cathe Calling on lovers of historical fiction! Tsarina is a novel that you must read -- especially if you are a fan of Russian history. Tsarina is a novel based on the life of Catherine I, the second wife of Peter the Great. It is an epic tale of the life and times of a serf washerwoman who rose to the crowned position of the Empress of Russia. One can say that Tsarina is like a Cinderella story. It is, and yet it isn't due to the portrayal of the dark side of the rise to glory. That dark side is Catherine having to cope with Peter's constant infidelity, the loss of most of her children, the ravages of war, and the untempered rage of her husband. I found Tsarina to be a very enjoyable read. The author has done a lot of research into that era and her depictions really take you back in time so that you get immersed in the story. However, I did get a bit bogged down by the interchanging names of the characters, but that still didn't take away from my enjoyment. Overall, a solid four stars -- I really like it. Thank you to St. Martin's Press through NetGalley for the digital ARC. The review herein is my own and contains my honest thoughts and opinions.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Grace

    The only word to describe this book is gratuitous. Marta is a peasant girl who, through various horrible circumstances, goes on to become the wife of Peter the Great, Tsar of Russia, and eventually rule Russia herself as Catherine the First after Peter dies. Now, as you would expect, the life of an Eastern European serf is not awesome. As a teenager, Marta is sold to a passing Russian for a silver coin, and things just get worse from there. I almost want to thank this book, at least, for the thing The only word to describe this book is gratuitous. Marta is a peasant girl who, through various horrible circumstances, goes on to become the wife of Peter the Great, Tsar of Russia, and eventually rule Russia herself as Catherine the First after Peter dies. Now, as you would expect, the life of an Eastern European serf is not awesome. As a teenager, Marta is sold to a passing Russian for a silver coin, and things just get worse from there. I almost want to thank this book, at least, for the things I learned. I learned that Catherine the Great was Catherine the Second, and that another Catherine ruled before her. I learned things about Peter the Great that I will never forget. But was the damage worth the few historical details I will carry away with me? Almost certainly not. This book has nothing to offer but rape, murder, more rape, orgies, drunken debauchery, incest, torture, more rape, pregnancies, and an infinite amount of awkward sex scenes, all presented with enough NC-17 explicit detail to make you want to gouge your eyes out. If you took out all the time Catherine spends being pregnant, giving birth, and engaging in various sexual encounters both willingly and unwillingly, there would be about enough information left to form a Wikipedia page of moderate length. I genuinely wish I hadn't read this book. Obviously a life such as Catherine's wouldn't have been all roses -- it would be unrealistic to whitewash it -- but I don't need to go through each rape with her in horrible technicolor. Would she want to be remembered for that? Wallowing in so much human misery for simple entertainment is just painful and vulgar and disgusting and gratuitous.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Laura Tenfingers

    Tsarina tells the story of Catherine I, who started life as a serf named Marta and rose to the dizzying heights of Tsarina and Empress of All the Russias. This book is not for the faint of heart. It is raw and seems realistic, but it is brutal. There is rape, murder, rape, torture, rape, sexual depravity, rape, more torture, more rape, more murder, and around and around we go. I was really engaged in the first part of the book where we learn of her origins and learn about life as a serf in late 1 Tsarina tells the story of Catherine I, who started life as a serf named Marta and rose to the dizzying heights of Tsarina and Empress of All the Russias. This book is not for the faint of heart. It is raw and seems realistic, but it is brutal. There is rape, murder, rape, torture, rape, sexual depravity, rape, more torture, more rape, more murder, and around and around we go. I was really engaged in the first part of the book where we learn of her origins and learn about life as a serf in late 17th century Lithuania. It's brutal, it's depressing but fascinating. As she gets a little bit older and is bought by Peter Tsar of Russia, the narrative changes a bit and I wasn't as engaged. We spend more time learning about Peter, the founding of St Petersburg, the war with Sweden and the drunken debauchery and sexual depravity that was the Russian Court of the early 18th century. I felt less connected to Catherine and totally disgusted by the way Peter treated everybody and the violence that permeated that life. Sadly Catherine wasn't much of a flushed out character for most of this. I thought the narrative with alternating past and present worked well and the suspenseful opening is left in suspense until quite late in the book leaving us wondering until the end. Unfortunately I wasn't invested in Catherine anymore so I didn't care as much as I would have liked, but I learned a lot about someone I didn't even know existed. Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for an eARC in exchange for an honest review.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Frankie (Chicks, Rogues and Scandals)

    OMG, this is so bloody amazing!! I am blown away by the quality of this book, this is never a debut, surely someone is lying to me?? This book has pure intoxicating, indulgent class written all over it. It’s a fascinating, dark tale of a woman so few of heard of – I do count myself in that category. It’s a captivating mix of compelling history, sex, violence and the wonderful story of a woman who was an essential part of history, a woman who fought to gain her place and the respect she deserved. I OMG, this is so bloody amazing!! I am blown away by the quality of this book, this is never a debut, surely someone is lying to me?? This book has pure intoxicating, indulgent class written all over it. It’s a fascinating, dark tale of a woman so few of heard of – I do count myself in that category. It’s a captivating mix of compelling history, sex, violence and the wonderful story of a woman who was an essential part of history, a woman who fought to gain her place and the respect she deserved. I am astounded that I had never heard of Catherine I of Russia before now, which strikes me as not just amazing that this brilliantly intelligent and ruthless woman appears to have disappeared from history but also that those might women who came after her; such as the legendary Catherine the great have a lot to thank Catherine I for. She was an extraordinarily cunning, intelligent and determined woman who will do everything she can to keep her place. I really admire Catherine – whose birth name was Marta – she came from humble origins, illegitimate and tough she is sold off by her family and she then was passed from pillar to post; used, violated, humiliated and abused until finally catching the eye of Tsar Peter. Which is not surprising as Marta was an incredible young woman, she was a born survivor, beautiful and alluring with a keen wit. They share a long marriage of ups and downs and lots and lots of sex, he isn’t the perfect husband anything but he is prone to quite shocking behaviour but she keeps her head high and fights to keep her place right up to and after his death she is a strong woman and I do hugely admire her. As well as being a dramatic and brilliantly vivid tale of danger and hardship this really shows just how debauched the Russian aristocratic court was… My goodness, it’s hot and steamy and quite shocking, there a lot of romping around the bed-chamber – Ouh la la, who knew that the Russian court could be so hot and lustful? It actually reminds me of a mixture of the tv series’ Versailles, The Tudors and The Devil’s Whore, if you’ve watched any you will have an inkling what I mean by sex-mad aristocrats. It isn’t the easiest of reads, at times it can be uncomfortable and there are some truly harrowing and shocking moments, which are all the more disturbing and uncomfortable to read because this is based on a true story and the abuses, the violence the manipulations all most like did happen which again is shocking. An advisory note, even if you love your historical fiction do be prepared for some scenes that are uncomfortable but essential to the entirety of the story. If you are of a more sensitive disposition then this may not be the best book, personally, I think it’s utterly amazing, easily one of the best of the years but I have always preferred my historical’s to have a darker feel to them. All I am saying is just take heed because I can guarantee that once you do start reading you won’t be able to stop, it consumes you, it pulls you into the dark, vodka-soaked and turbulent world of the Russian court. This is thought-provoking, richly textured and enthralling tale of the strength and lengths a woman will go to survive, I cannot recommend this enough. This was a complimentary copy which I voluntarily reviewed as a part of this blog tour.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Lynne

    The subject Catherine the Empress It is very smutty and a lot of sex There is some swearing A bodice ripper I like books regarding Russian History. This one had too much sex and swearing If you like smut you will like this I went in expecting more of history than anything :( I won this in a giveaway thank you :)

  10. 5 out of 5

    Theresa Smith

    ‘My life began with a crime.’ This is was quite a novel, both in size and scope. It falls easily into that category of ‘epic saga’ and while it weighed heavily in my hands, I really couldn’t put it down. The edition that I was reading was an ARC and it didn’t yet have the historical notes or acknowledgements included in the back that I expect the finished edition to have. As such, I’m not able to confirm how closely the events in the novel align with the actual true history; a bit of a shame as I ‘My life began with a crime.’ This is was quite a novel, both in size and scope. It falls easily into that category of ‘epic saga’ and while it weighed heavily in my hands, I really couldn’t put it down. The edition that I was reading was an ARC and it didn’t yet have the historical notes or acknowledgements included in the back that I expect the finished edition to have. As such, I’m not able to confirm how closely the events in the novel align with the actual true history; a bit of a shame as I always enjoy finding out what is based on truth and what is fully made up. Nevertheless, just from reading this novel I am able to judge that the author has done an immense amount of research on Russian history. And this is where the novel fully earns its five stars from me. The author has detailed such exacting descriptions of life in Russia during the set era, from the customs to the food to the weather and even the way the cities would have smelt. This novel truly is a history enthusiasts dream and if you are keen on Russian history, then you will be in raptures even more over it. However, if you are expecting a story about a glamourous royal court giving birth to an emerging Russian culture, hold that thought. Time and time again I was astonished at the depravity and general brutish, uncouth, and uncivilised nature of the people who made up Russia’s elite. Take this as an example: ‘We left Mon Bijou two days later. I felt sorry for the Queen of Prussia once again as I walked through her small palace’s once perfectly presented rooms. Many of the high, polished windows had been shattered and shards of glass lay everywhere. The Persian rugs were trampled and I spotted burn holes from cigars or careless fire-laying. Belgian damask curtains hung in tatters and the gilded wall panelling in one room had been demolished. Chandeliers of Bohemian crystal and candlesticks of ivory had been smashed; Delft tiles lay broken while soot covered the fine parquet. On the furniture, carving skills had been practised. The faces in some of the gilt-framed portraits had been cut to pieces by countless blades. Oh, yes, Peter’s men had felt at home in Berlin. I doubted we would be invited there again.’ There was, in general, such little regard, not only for property, but for the lives of others. It was disconcerting to read about children throwing rotten vegetables at the servants for fun; even more so to read of the adults doing it! But this was very much a top down approach, with Tsar Peter the worst offender of all. His entire Russian empire was built on the skeletons of those who were forced into his armies. St Petersburg itself was raised out of the swamps by the slave labour of serfs. If you ran away once, your nose was cut off. If you ran away again, your ears were cut off. A third time? Further torture that you may or may not survive; it didn’t matter either way because your life was worth nothing and there were millions with which to replace you. I cannot even imagine what moving, much less working, in such cold and arctic conditions must have been like. But being born as anything other than a serf didn’t guarantee your safety either. This is a Tsar who tortured his own so to death for a reason of his own making. Everyone’s life was dispensable; everyone was just one whisper away from being tortured or sent to work in mine camps or convents, or worse. There was always worse. ‘During my years with the Tsar I had witnessed many atrocities. Men had their caps nailed to their heads because they did not pull them off fast enough upon Peter’s arrival. Monks and nuns had their guts slashed because they had dared to call his decisions blasphemous. Old-fashioned Muscovites who had questioned the direction Peter was taking the country in, were smothered with molten metal. Nothing had prepared me for what it meant to die on the stake. The man’s screams tore apart the air of the hot Moscow summer’s day before they faded to a faint whimper at nightfall, after endless hours of pain. His dark blood kept on seeping over the stones of the Red Square, which was true to its name that day, and the stench of his dying drifted into the Kremlin, strangling my soul.’ Peter the Great was very much a man of enormous vision. He had been educated in Europe and saw so much potential for Russia, and yet his vision extended beyond advancement. He wanted to refashion Russia into something it wasn’t. A conversion of East to West. There appeared to be only one peaceful year for Russia in Peter’s entire reign; he was always warring for further territory. St Petersburg, his jewel of a city, created for the new Russia, was built on what had formerly been Swedish lands. He was effectively moving Russia out of the East, geographically, not just symbolically, and setting it firmly into the West. The cost of this was catastrophically enormous. He was a madman. Absolutely diabolical. Riddled with syphilis, and by the time of his death, he was completely out of control. ‘One could for ever and ever praise the merits of the dead Tsar Peter, the greatness, the uniqueness, the wisdom of his rule. But his work brought pain to all the people who came close to him. He disturbed peace, prosperity, the strength of his empire. He violated the dignity, rights, and well-being of his subjects. He meddled insultingly in all matters: from religion to the family to the holy church. Can one love such a despot? No, never. Such a ruler is nothing but hateful.’ So what of Catherine, the woman whose perspective steers this novel? She was a survivor, that’s for sure. Cunning and smart in a way that belied her lack of education. If she had been less beautiful, she’d likely have been dead in a ditch by seventeen. Luck came her way on account of her looks, but it was her intelligence that ensured this luck was not wasted. Her life was far from easy though. Thirteen pregnancies, twelve with Peter, and only two daughters survived into adulthood. I can’t help but wonder though if all of the vodka drinking may have had a hand in this. Her uterus must have been fairly pickled. ‘Twelve times God had given me the chance to give Russia an heir. Twelve times I had failed.’ Catherine lived by dancing on the edge of a knife with Peter. He had already cast one wife aside, and she had actually birthed him a son – just one he happened to deem as weak and inadequate. So for Catherine, whose boys were all sadly either stillborn or died in infancy, her position was forever precarious. And yet, Peter was besotted with her. Her bravery superseded many of the men he was surrounded by and her wits on more than one occasion led to a situation saved for him. Her compassion operated as a temperance between Peter and his courtiers, even a buffer at times, as she was the only one who could calm his rages and soothe his ego. She manipulated him masterfully – seriously, the woman was a goddess. And yet, he still openly disrespected her, more and more as he got older. It was actually pretty repulsive to be honest, this man with symptomatic syphilis having open affairs with other women at court, including his own niece at one stage, while Catherine watched from the sidelines, pregnant again. I am astonished she did not contract syphilis herself and really can’t fathom why she didn’t. In the end, I championed her fate. No one was more deserving than her of becoming the next leader after Peter’s death. No one had earned it more through sheer grit, tears, and even blood. She gave birth thirteen times and mourned the loss of a child eleven times. Rode alongside Peter to war for years, mucking in and nursing the wounded. She endured fear and tyranny on a daily basis, witnessed atrocities that beggar belief, survived repeated rape, was sold by her own family, and was forced to kill in self-defence. The loyalty that was shown to her in the end was more than earned. I thought she was magnificent. And that revenge she took on the upstart that threatened her position as Peter’s wife? Gold. If you’re going to send someone a clear message, make it a worthwhile one and go full Catherine on them. ‘The generals kneel; countless times I have sat with them by the campfire, celebrating their victories and lamenting their defeats. I tended to their wounds at Poltava, and spooned thin soup into their bowls underneath the beating Persian sun. I was always there, for as long as they can remember. I protected them, their goods and their families, against Peter’s wrath. At his side, I had learnt what it took to rule Russia. This is the way it should be: Peter is dead. My beloved husband, the mighty Emperor and Tsar of All the Russias, has died, and not a moment too soon.’ This is no fairy-tale story of a rags to riches princess fulfilling her destiny. This is a brutal account of the birth of an empire made out of blood, sweat, and tears, its existence defying all possibility. It’s the story of a woman who, despite being born into serfdom, despite being sold, used, and discarded, despite being a woman in the first place, ended up still alive, stepping out of the shadow of a despot and reigning supreme, loved by her people and deserving of their honour. This novel is dense with war and politics, riddled with sex and debauchery, saturated with villainy, manipulations, and betrayal: just about everything you could ever want from historical fiction and then some. Thanks is extended to Bloomsbury for providing me with a copy of Tsarina for review.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Dianne

    Born into poverty, one woman would rise from peasant to TSARINA and would hold the key to forever changing the landscape of Imperial Russia. Enter Ellen Alpsten’s world of eighteenth century Russia as war, political machinations, loyalty and the power of love and lust turn a pauper into an ambitious dynamo who will stop at nothing to achieve her goals. Brilliant, richly detailed and atmospheric, this is a raw Cinderella story with grit. Spanning decades, we witness a young woman’s rise from washe Born into poverty, one woman would rise from peasant to TSARINA and would hold the key to forever changing the landscape of Imperial Russia. Enter Ellen Alpsten’s world of eighteenth century Russia as war, political machinations, loyalty and the power of love and lust turn a pauper into an ambitious dynamo who will stop at nothing to achieve her goals. Brilliant, richly detailed and atmospheric, this is a raw Cinderella story with grit. Spanning decades, we witness a young woman’s rise from washerwoman to consort to Peter the Great, sharing in the excesses of the times as Fate and Opportunity conspire to create a powerful personality for an era in upheaval. Ellen Alpsten has done a remarkable job of bringing her characters and their actions to life, from drunken debauchery to lavish feasts to the brazen audacity of desiring to hold the power of life and death over a nation. Entertaining, mesmerizing and thought-provoking, this tale of history fairly leaps off the pages as the drama builds and redoubles itself. I received a complimentary ARC edition from St. Martin's Press! This is my honest and voluntary review. Publisher: St. Martin's Press (November 10, 2020) Publication Date: November 10, 2020 Genre: Historical Fiction Print Length: 480 pages Available from: Amazon | Barnes & Noble For Reviews, Giveaways, Fabulous Book News, follow: http://tometender.blogspot.com

  12. 4 out of 5

    Peter

    I received a free copy of this book as a Goodreads Giveaway. Tsarina is a fictionalized account of the life of Catherine I of Russia, told in the first person. Catherine rose from peasant origins in the Baltic region to become the second wife of Peter the Great and, ultimately, sole ruler of Russia upon Peter's death. The ascent of such an obscure figure to the highest levels of power can be the basis for a fascinating literary historical novel. When I requested the novel, I expected Wolf Hall set I received a free copy of this book as a Goodreads Giveaway. Tsarina is a fictionalized account of the life of Catherine I of Russia, told in the first person. Catherine rose from peasant origins in the Baltic region to become the second wife of Peter the Great and, ultimately, sole ruler of Russia upon Peter's death. The ascent of such an obscure figure to the highest levels of power can be the basis for a fascinating literary historical novel. When I requested the novel, I expected Wolf Hall set in the Russian Court of the early 1700s. This novel is not that. It is a historical romance novel using as its structure the life of Catherine. To its credit, it sticks largely to the known events of Catherine's life and Peter's reign. Nevertheless, it is really a "bodice ripper." Therefore, I am not the intended audience for this book and am reluctant to write an extended review measuring it against a genre it probably was not intended to occupy. If you are not put off by prose such as "In his arms I was a woman once more, not just an Empress," then in the words of an 18th century Russian woman in this book "Go for it." As Abraham Lincoln said in a review of a book: :"I suppose people who like this sort of thing will find this the sort of thing they like."

  13. 4 out of 5

    Kate Baxter

    This story is as epic as a Russian novel; fraught with incredible loss, betrayal, subterfuge, and despair. Yet it also speaks of opulence, the excesses of the rich and powerful and how one safely navigates such a world as a changing Russia of the 18th century. It is a rags to riches story of a plucky young girl, whose cleverness, sensuality, quick wit and tender heart deliver her from a lowly life of servitude to the open arms of the ruler of all the Russias - Tsar Peter the Great. She is the be This story is as epic as a Russian novel; fraught with incredible loss, betrayal, subterfuge, and despair. Yet it also speaks of opulence, the excesses of the rich and powerful and how one safely navigates such a world as a changing Russia of the 18th century. It is a rags to riches story of a plucky young girl, whose cleverness, sensuality, quick wit and tender heart deliver her from a lowly life of servitude to the open arms of the ruler of all the Russias - Tsar Peter the Great. She is the beautiful Catherine Alexeyevna, second wife of Peter the Great and first Empress of all the Russias. This is the first book to tell her story. Author Ellen Alpsten has crafted an incredible story of Herculean proportions about a low-born girl who rises to greatness. She cleverly provides a purely fictional yet believable account of the early years of this legendary woman, as the historic record is silent. Relying on the available historical records of the Romanov court, Alpsten weaves a rich and epic story about this strong, courageous and devoted woman. In one stroke, she captures the beauty of the Russian landscape as well as the soul of the Russian people with her painterly writing style. In another, she captures the shear brutality of a country at continuous war - sometimes on all fronts - including the personal ones within the Kremlin's walls. Trigger warning: Rape scenes, scenes from the boudoir and bacchanalia as well as those of horrific brutality are quite graphic. This may all be closer to the truth than one would hope. Regardless, the book was interesting and most informative regarding Russia's history and this amazing woman's place within it. I am grateful to St. Martin's Press for having provided a complimentary uncorrected digital galley of this book through NetGalley. Their generosity, however, has not influenced this review - the words of which are mine alone.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Autumn

    Tsarina by Ellen Alpsten follows the life of the first Catherine of Russia, second wife of Peter the Great. It starts with her as a poor peasant girl originally named Marta (later known as Catherine) who miraculously survives many brutalities, rising to the status of Empress only to find that nobility is marked with equal violence and sadness. This is the real Game of Thrones. She is a survivor. Catherine, naturally kinder than most, catches the eye of Peter by comforting him and offering steadfa Tsarina by Ellen Alpsten follows the life of the first Catherine of Russia, second wife of Peter the Great. It starts with her as a poor peasant girl originally named Marta (later known as Catherine) who miraculously survives many brutalities, rising to the status of Empress only to find that nobility is marked with equal violence and sadness. This is the real Game of Thrones. She is a survivor. Catherine, naturally kinder than most, catches the eye of Peter by comforting him and offering steadfastness. Unlike Peter's other lovers, Catherine is also his friend. Even so, the underlying emotion of all these people is the fear of meeting a violent end. The 1700's wasn't meant for the faint hearted. The time period is inflicted with violence of all kinds. The scenes are explicit; workers with their noses cut off, beheadings, torture, rape... it's all there and not hidden. The reader gets to see the good, bad, and ugly of all the main characters. I appreciated it because I imagine this is what lives were like then, and it made Catherine's journey to Empress more extraordinary. I imagine the details and bluntness might put other readers off, but given the time period, the crudeness in the story seems appropriate to me. Synchronicity is a huge part of this book and what I enjoyed most about the story. It blew my mind that Catherine (Marta) escapes with her life numerous times when most logically wouldn't have survived. I couldn't help but believe in fate. She seemed fated to pave the way for the female rulers that followed her; her daughter Elizabeth and then Catherine the Great. Alpsten does an outstanding job linking Catherine's experiences to illustrate the makings of an Empress. So, the sum of my thoughts is that it is an impressive story and one worth reading if you can stand to look it straight in the eye. 4 bright stars. Source: St. Martin's Press via Netgalley gave me an Arc (e-copy) in exchange for an honest review.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    Tsarina is the epitome of a rags to riches story in a neglected corner of Russian history. The detail that Alpsten has instilled in this book is absolutely phenomenal and the overall writing is utterly brilliant. A fantastic read for anyone interested in historical fiction! *I received this book free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

  16. 4 out of 5

    Amy Bruno

    I didn't realize that I needed to read more historicals set in Russia until I read Tsarina by Ellen Aplsten! My word, this book was a wild, sexy ride through Peter the Great and Catherine I's reign, and I loved every minute of it! I'm a huge fan of the darker side of history and the more debauchery, the better and Tsarina had all of that in spades! Catherine I begins life as a young girl named Marta living with her siblings and father in a small, run-down shack when she is sold off to a man to be I didn't realize that I needed to read more historicals set in Russia until I read Tsarina by Ellen Aplsten! My word, this book was a wild, sexy ride through Peter the Great and Catherine I's reign, and I loved every minute of it! I'm a huge fan of the darker side of history and the more debauchery, the better and Tsarina had all of that in spades! Catherine I begins life as a young girl named Marta living with her siblings and father in a small, run-down shack when she is sold off to a man to become his servant which sets off a series of events that will leave Marta used and abused and passed to other men until she finally meets Tsar Peter. Their marriage and the ungodly amount of children that Catherine bore is detailed as well, which was fascinating! Tsarina will immediately grab you from the first page and will leave you breathlessly turning the pages to see what will happen next. If you're sensitive to violence and sexual scenes this book may not be for you but I thought it was an exceptional read about a woman that rose from a life of servitude to become the first woman to rule Imperial Russia. An absolutely stellar read, I was highly impressed that this was Alpsten's debut novel. I will definitely be on the lookout for her future books!

  17. 4 out of 5

    Emma Curtis

    I was lucky enough to get an advance copy of Tsarina and I was in heaven reading it. The writing is superb, completely immersing me in 17th Century Russia. This is a gorgeous tale about a staggeringly brutal era in Russian history. Telling the story of Catherine 1 of Russia, wife of Peter The Great, against the backdrop of a seemingly never-ending war, it is an astonishing achievement. I learned so much, but I was entertained more. This is a terrific story brilliantly told and I highly recommend I was lucky enough to get an advance copy of Tsarina and I was in heaven reading it. The writing is superb, completely immersing me in 17th Century Russia. This is a gorgeous tale about a staggeringly brutal era in Russian history. Telling the story of Catherine 1 of Russia, wife of Peter The Great, against the backdrop of a seemingly never-ending war, it is an astonishing achievement. I learned so much, but I was entertained more. This is a terrific story brilliantly told and I highly recommend it.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Taylor Thomas

    Definitely takes some creative liberties, but a beautifully written and fun ride for what it is.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Out of the Bex

    Rarely have I been as disappointed in a book as I have been in Tsarina over the last few weeks. It started well. I even gave early recommendations of it to my fellow antiquarians and russologists. These were recommendations I sadly revoked as I read deeper into Ellen Alpsten's republished novel. Perhaps most disheartening is the incredible potential in this story to be told well and on a grand scale. There is enough material in Catherine's rise to power to fill many pages more than even the long Rarely have I been as disappointed in a book as I have been in Tsarina over the last few weeks. It started well. I even gave early recommendations of it to my fellow antiquarians and russologists. These were recommendations I sadly revoked as I read deeper into Ellen Alpsten's republished novel. Perhaps most disheartening is the incredible potential in this story to be told well and on a grand scale. There is enough material in Catherine's rise to power to fill many pages more than even the longest fantasy series. Hers is a story so rare and so startlingly unbelievable as to need very little influence from fiction. And so, it is with great despondency that I report to you how much I feel this book failed in its endeavors to capture such an epic true story from our history. Shall I put it to you bluntly? Tsarina is erotica pretending to be historical fiction. Alpsten's interpretation focuses so intensely on salaciousness that she inadvertently wastes the much needed page space for more necessary matters of comes complex historical fiction; things like character development, exploration into complex socio-political parallels, war strategy, and well-documented culture. If she had dismissed even half the lewd scenes she would have had enough time in her storyline to create a passable plot. Alas, she missed all the opportunity Catherine's true story offers in place of her much inferior fictional one. To be clear, debauchery is not the only problem with Tsarina. There are also major weaknesses in repetitive sentence structures and phrases, the worst of which is the repetitive use of the description "like a child"—a phrase repeated so much (twice within two pages at one point) it would make a fun drinking game for any good-time Charlies out there. I am perhaps more cruel a reviewer when there is great potential in a book which subsequently fails. Better to be terrible from the beginning than rope me in with false promises and hang me with the tether.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Tasha

    2.5 I'm not really sure which star rating I feel more strongly serves my experience. Overall, rounding up to 3 stars seems to sum up my general reaction to the book but honestly, 2.5 stars works as well. The explicit sex scenes were not necessary to move this story along so if you prefer historical fiction over graphic romance (or violence in some cases) you should be forewarned. I understand her life was not all peaches and cream but I didn't find a need for all the graphic details. The story f 2.5 I'm not really sure which star rating I feel more strongly serves my experience. Overall, rounding up to 3 stars seems to sum up my general reaction to the book but honestly, 2.5 stars works as well. The explicit sex scenes were not necessary to move this story along so if you prefer historical fiction over graphic romance (or violence in some cases) you should be forewarned. I understand her life was not all peaches and cream but I didn't find a need for all the graphic details. The story focused on her rise to Empress but we were left with very little about her actual reign as Empress, which I was expecting we would also read about. Characters were not all that well-developed so that I found myself caring little for any of them, including Catherine. However, I definitely learned some Russian history and it has peaked my interest to perhaps finally grab Peter the Great: His Life and World off my shelf and do some digging around for another book on Catherine I. Thank you to Netgalley and St. Martin's Press for an advanced eARC of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Emma Shaw

    "He is dead. My beloved husband, the mighty Tsar of all the Russias, has died - and just in time." Tsarina is a story of power, lust, sex, murder and betrayal. Of rags-to-riches. Of Catherine, the first Tsarina of all the Russias. It begins in February 1725, on the night that Peter the Great, Tsar of All the Russias, dies. Catherine, her children and his advisors try to conceal his death for as long as possible to delay their fate. It is a matter of life and death. The story then moves between th "He is dead. My beloved husband, the mighty Tsar of all the Russias, has died - and just in time." Tsarina is a story of power, lust, sex, murder and betrayal. Of rags-to-riches. Of Catherine, the first Tsarina of all the Russias. It begins in February 1725, on the night that Peter the Great, Tsar of All the Russias, dies. Catherine, her children and his advisors try to conceal his death for as long as possible to delay their fate. It is a matter of life and death. The story then moves between that night and flashbacks to Catherine’s life, beginning when she was just thirteen-years-old, still known as Marta and living with her serf family. We then follow her journey from poor peasant girl to Tsarina; a story that would be deemed too far fetched if you tried to sell it to a publisher. But every word of this novel is based in fact, with just a few liberties taken as the details of Catherine’s early life is shrouded in mystery. I have always had a love for history and ever since studying the fall of the Tsars for my History A Level I have been fascinated with their story. So when I saw this book advertised I knew from just the title that I HAD to read it and after reading the synopsis it became one of my most anticipated books of the year. Thankfully, this magnificent debut surpassed every one of my high expectations. It was an all-encompassing read. A book that I took my time with, taking time to soak in every word, but also one that I couldn’t put down or stop thinking about when I had to do so. Ellen Alpsten is a new talent to watch. Exquisitely written and wonderfully crafted, her meticulous research shines through on every page, bringing back to life those who lived and died three hundred years ago and making you feel like they are right there beside you with her powerful storytelling. I was hooked from the start and became totally lost in Catherine’s story, living every word of this book while reading it. Every moment of love and joy, every piercing pain of heartbreak and every gut-wrenching horror she witnessed and experienced, I felt along with her. "Together, we have lived and loved, and together, we ruled." After reading this novel it seems unimaginable that Catherine’s story has been forgotten. That such a strong, brave and remarkable woman had been consigned to a footnote in history. At that time life for most of Russia’s people was hard, harsh and bleak. Even those in the upper classes lived in fear of falling out the Tsar’s favour and losing not only their wealth but their lives. Peter had a new vision for Russia and was a ruthless leader who was willing to sacrifice anyone and everything to achieve it. Even as his wife Catherine walked a tightrope knowing she could be stripped of everything and either sent to a convent or killed should the fancy take him. The brutality of life at that time and the lack of rights that were held by even the highest-ranking women is starkly illuminated in Catherine’s story in sobering detail. Tsarina is a masterpiece of historical fiction. Atmospheric, intoxicating, unsettling, and compelling, this outstanding novel is one that will linger long after you close it’s pages. This gloriously decadent debut is one you don’t want to miss.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Hannah.w

    I gave this two stars because for all its flaws, it is very readable and I flew through it quickly. This is a Philippa Gregory-style historical bodice ripper and to the novel's credit, it doesn't pretend to be anything else. That's about where the positives run out. The writing is so-so, the characters are flat and far too numerous and there are many scenes where characters explain the historical context of the story in extremely clunky dialogue. It's like the author did all this research so she w I gave this two stars because for all its flaws, it is very readable and I flew through it quickly. This is a Philippa Gregory-style historical bodice ripper and to the novel's credit, it doesn't pretend to be anything else. That's about where the positives run out. The writing is so-so, the characters are flat and far too numerous and there are many scenes where characters explain the historical context of the story in extremely clunky dialogue. It's like the author did all this research so she was determined to share all of it whether it was organic to the narrative or not. And the sex scenes. *facepalm* I'm not opposed to sex scenes, especially in a novel about a royal mistress, but the sex scenes in this book were so awkward and repetitive. If you took a shot every time a character's breasts were mentioned, you'd soon be as drunk as the characters themselves. I swear Marta/Catherine's breasts seemed to have a mind of their own. There is also a lot of rape in this book and the rape scenes are pretty graphic. I get that this was a brutal time period for women, but the level of detail felt gratuitous, as if it was only included for shock value. They also contribute to the weird pacing of this novel. Events which should have a significant emotional impact on the protagonist, such as the death of her first two sons, are skipped over in two or three sentences, whereas the rape scenes got 2-3 pages each. In conclusion: meh.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Vintagebooklvr

    An interesting novel that tells the fascinating story of Catherine Alexeyevna, a maid who rose to become Tsarina and the first woman to rule Russia in her own right (this is not Catherine the Great). She had to survive the dangerous politics of the Russian Court and hold the capricious attention of the complex Peter the Great for 20 years. Though, illiterate, she used all the tools at her disposal: wits, intelligence, and her charm to survive and thrive. In spite of horrors she witnessed and end An interesting novel that tells the fascinating story of Catherine Alexeyevna, a maid who rose to become Tsarina and the first woman to rule Russia in her own right (this is not Catherine the Great). She had to survive the dangerous politics of the Russian Court and hold the capricious attention of the complex Peter the Great for 20 years. Though, illiterate, she used all the tools at her disposal: wits, intelligence, and her charm to survive and thrive. In spite of horrors she witnessed and endured, she was also known to be compassionate, intervene on the behalf of others and able to calm Peter's lethal rages. Rich in historical details, from food, clothing, medical practices, battles to court events, Alpsten did not sanitize history. It was a brutal time and those who have triggers may be disturbed by the rapes, torture, executions and untimely deaths of children. But this was not a gloom and doom book; it celebrated life and making the best of one's circumstances. There were parties, fancy gowns, friendships, generosity and compassion. Alpsten made up Catherine's early life for there is no reliable detail about it and were else she took artistic license I don't know but there is a lot of research that went into the book and many things are accurate. I thought in the later part of the book Catherine's emotional connection to other people got lost among the events of pregnancies and battles. Catherine often left her children with Daria Menshikov yet they had little interaction in this part of the story though Daria was an important character earlier. I was a little let down by the ending. The book was told from Catherine's pov until she's named Peter's successor, then the Epilogue was told by a French diplomat with a short summary of Catherine's reign. I wish there was more from her pov during her reign. It would have done her more justice. There was one thread left hanging that I would have be interested in being explained: Catherine said Peter could have been saved if the doctor's gave him some medication but it doesn't say what it was. In fact, other than one sentence it is not brought up again. If Peter was dying from syphilis, as suggested in the novel, there was no medication at that time which could have saved him. I highly recommend this for people who like historical fiction and anyone who enjoys a good story. I received a free copy of this book thanks to Netgalley.com and the publisher in return for a fair and impartial review.

  24. 5 out of 5

    BreeAnn (She Just Loves Books)

    Wow! This was a thicky-thick book, but it was an awesome story! Tsarina is a historical fiction story about Catherine I of Russia. It was a dark, beautifully written book with descriptions that made me feel like I was right there. Catherine was an incredible, smart, amazing woman and I really enjoyed reading about her! I thought that the author did a wonderful job bringing Catherine and her story to life! Content Warning: There is descriptive detail of rape. Overall, I found this book to be an insi Wow! This was a thicky-thick book, but it was an awesome story! Tsarina is a historical fiction story about Catherine I of Russia. It was a dark, beautifully written book with descriptions that made me feel like I was right there. Catherine was an incredible, smart, amazing woman and I really enjoyed reading about her! I thought that the author did a wonderful job bringing Catherine and her story to life! Content Warning: There is descriptive detail of rape. Overall, I found this book to be an insightful, enjoyable story about a woman in history that I knew very little about. I enjoyed the story and writing! I was provided an advanced reader's copy of this book for free. I am leaving my review voluntarily.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Kathi

    Following the grand tradition of sweeping historical novels, "Tsarina" brings to vivid life the improbable story of a washerwoman's daughter who rose to become the first empress of Russia. Told in easy to follow prose, the story is gripping and full of life, passion, and history. It brings to life all the grandeur, excess, and cruelty of Tsar Peter the First's reign. Highly readable and mesmerizing. I heartily recommend this book.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Emma Shaw

    "He is dead. My beloved husband, the mighty Tsar of all the Russias, has died - and just in time." Tsarina is a story of power, lust, sex, murder and betrayal. Of rags-to-riches. Of Catherine, the first Tsarina of all the Russias. It begins in February 1725, on the night that Peter the Great, Tsar of All the Russias, dies. Catherine, her children and his advisors try to conceal his death for as long as possible to delay their fate. It is a matter of life and death. The story then moves between th "He is dead. My beloved husband, the mighty Tsar of all the Russias, has died - and just in time." Tsarina is a story of power, lust, sex, murder and betrayal. Of rags-to-riches. Of Catherine, the first Tsarina of all the Russias. It begins in February 1725, on the night that Peter the Great, Tsar of All the Russias, dies. Catherine, her children and his advisors try to conceal his death for as long as possible to delay their fate. It is a matter of life and death. The story then moves between that night and flashbacks to Catherine’s life, beginning when she was just thirteen-years-old, still known as Marta and living with her serf family. We then follow her journey from poor peasant girl to Tsarina; a story that would be deemed too far fetched if you tried to sell it to a publisher. But every word of this novel is based in fact, with just a few liberties taken as the details of Catherine’s early life is shrouded in mystery. I have always had a love for history and ever since studying the fall of the Tsars for my History A Level I have been fascinated with their story. So when I saw this book advertised I knew from just the title that I HAD to read it. After reading the synopsis it became one of my most anticipated books of the year. Thankfully, this magnificent debut surpassed every one of my high expectations. It was an all-encompassing read. A book that I took my time with, taking time to soak in every word, but also one that I couldn’t put down or stop thinking about when I had to do so. Ellen Alpsten is a new talent to watch. Exquisitely written and wonderfully crafted, her meticulous research shines through on every page, bringing back to life those who lived and died three hundred years ago and making you feel like they are right there beside you with her powerful storytelling. I was hooked from the start and became totally lost in Catherine’s story, living every word of this book while reading it. Every moment of love and joy, every piercing pain of heartbreak and every gut-wrenching horror she witnessed and experienced, I felt along with her. "Together, we have lived and loved, and together, we ruled." After reading this novel it seems unimaginable that Catherine’s story has been forgotten. That such a strong, brave and remarkable woman had been consigned to a footnote in history. At that time life for most of Russia’s people was hard, harsh and bleak. Even those in the upper classes lived in fear of falling out the Tsar’s favour and losing not only their wealth but their lives. Peter had a new vision for Russia and was a ruthless leader who was willing to sacrifice anyone and everything to achieve it. Even as his wife Catherine walked a tightrope knowing she could be stripped of everything and either sent to a convent or killed should the fancy take him. The brutality of life at that time and the lack of rights that were held by even the highest-ranking women is starkly illuminated in Catherine’s story in sobering detail. Tsarina is a masterpiece of historical fiction. Atmospheric, intoxicating, unsettling, and compelling, this outstanding novel is one that will linger long after you close it’s pages. This gloriously decadent debut is one you don’t want to miss.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Lance Greenfield

    As literary genres go, historical fiction was my first love. This one is up there with the best. Even in my early school days, I was in trouble with my history teacher for questioning the dry facts that he presented to us. He happened to also be our current affairs teacher and, in those classes, he hammered home that we should verify and validate and cross-check the sources. When it came to history lessons, we were expected to believe everything that the historians had written without question. As literary genres go, historical fiction was my first love. This one is up there with the best. Even in my early school days, I was in trouble with my history teacher for questioning the dry facts that he presented to us. He happened to also be our current affairs teacher and, in those classes, he hammered home that we should verify and validate and cross-check the sources. When it came to history lessons, we were expected to believe everything that the historians had written without question. When I pointed out the conflict, his cane swished painfully across my hands or backside. My view was that the historical fiction that I read COULD be very close to the truth and it certainly brought history to life much more than his crusty books. Again, the cane was his answer. I haven’t changed! Amongst my favourites are Rosemary Sutcliff, Nigel Tranter, John Prebble, Conn Iggulden and George MacDonald Fraser. Ellen Alpsten, with her debut novel is definitely added to my list. Tsarina is narrated in the voice of an illiterate peasant girl from the village of Livonia in what is now Latvia. She is sold into servitude by her father and goes through periods of terrible abuse throughout her lifetime, even after she has found the favour of the Tsar, Peter the Great. He renames her, Catherine Alexeyevna. He marries her and she becomes the Tsarina. There are many interesting characters in this book, not least the great Russian General Shermetev who gives her advice and guidance that steers her through the rest of her precarious life. Her calculated cunning, combined with huge determination to be her own woman and a great deal of luck see her through many very dangerous situation. She soon realises who she can trust and who she cannot and that it is often better to be ruthless in your dealings with those around you than to fall the victim of their ruthlessness. Everyone in that world, in that time, is trampling on those around them to gain their own advantage. Woe betide those who dare to cross either the Tsar or the Tsarina. The time-linear narrative is occasionally interrupted with a flash forward into the time around the death of Tsar Peter. As you read, you can feel Catherine’s fear as she comes to terms with the fate that could befall her if she fails to gain the support of those who will hold her up as Empress of Russia. I really enjoyed riding the emotional roller-coaster with Marta/Catherine as she told me her life story. This is tremendous historical fiction and I recommend it to all and I have no hesitation in awarding it five well-deserved stars.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Rachel

    Tsarina by Ellen Alpsten is an excellent historical fiction (with a dash of biography as well but mostly fiction) of the life of Catherine I Empress of Russia. We find that she came from humble origins with the given name of Marta, a Polish peasant, was able to escape a troubled and rough life, and ended up becoming not only the second wife of Peter the Great, but also Empress upon his death in 1725. I already knew a great deal about the Romanov dynasty, however it is always exciting to read abo Tsarina by Ellen Alpsten is an excellent historical fiction (with a dash of biography as well but mostly fiction) of the life of Catherine I Empress of Russia. We find that she came from humble origins with the given name of Marta, a Polish peasant, was able to escape a troubled and rough life, and ended up becoming not only the second wife of Peter the Great, but also Empress upon his death in 1725. I already knew a great deal about the Romanov dynasty, however it is always exciting to read about these historic figures in more of a fictionalized setting that is a bit more relaxed, then another history book. Catherine, I feel, was a smart, creative, resourceful, cunning, feisty, and amazing woman that came from peasant/serfdom to a successful marriage and other half of what some consider to be one of the greatest leaders of Russia’s history, and then the first female leader of a difficult and vast land. The 1700s were a volatile and difficult time in Russia, and for a woman to be able to navigate through these preconceived gender roles, rise through the ranks, maneuver through the backstabbing and aggressive politics of aristocrats, and become one of the most powerful women in history, is nothing short of awe inspiring. Was she perfect? Nope. But there is no way she could have been and succeeded. This book has it all. History, strong, real-life characters, romance, and intrigue kept my interest throughout. I thoroughly enjoyed. For anyone that loves historical fiction, romance, Russian history, and power, this book is for you. 5/5 stars Thank you NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press for this excellent ARC and in return I am submitting my unbiased and voluntary review and opinion. I am posting this review to my GR and Bookbub accounts immediately and will post it to my Amazon and B&N accounts upon publication.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Joanna Park

    Tsarina was a fascinating, enthralling historical novel which really brings Russian history to life. Firstly Catherine was truly an amazing woman. The fact she managed to get to such a high position when she was born a peasant, couldn’t read or write and was a woman in a male dominated society was truly remarkable. I found I admired her more as the book went on and I was firmly on her side, hoping that she succeeded. The author has clearly done a lot of research into this period and all the little Tsarina was a fascinating, enthralling historical novel which really brings Russian history to life. Firstly Catherine was truly an amazing woman. The fact she managed to get to such a high position when she was born a peasant, couldn’t read or write and was a woman in a male dominated society was truly remarkable. I found I admired her more as the book went on and I was firmly on her side, hoping that she succeeded. The author has clearly done a lot of research into this period and all the little details about life back then helped bring the period to life. I knew nothing about this period so greedily absorbed everything I could. As the blurb says Catherine has mainly be forgotten from history which is really sad, and not much is known about her early life so the author has had to use some imagination at times which I found completely enthralling. Peter was definitely an interesting character who did much for modernising Russia. He was definitely a cruel man and some of his actions were very brutal which made for uncomfortable reading sometimes. One particular scene made me feel slightly sick so just be warned it’s quite graphic at times. Overall I thought this was a fast paced, addictive read which I flew through in a few days. I found myself so completely emersed in the world she’d created that I found myself confused when I had to come back into the present. The author definitely knows how to make history interesting and I thought this book was brilliantly written and just draws the reader into the story. I will definitely be looking out for this author in the future. Huge thanks to Anne Cater for inviting me onto the blog tour and to Bloomsbury publishers for my copy of this book via Netgalley.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Sage

    3.5 stars for me — I have a lot of thoughts and feelings about this book. I read the first half of it in 2 days, and then let 2 weeks go by before I picked it up and read the last half. This is an incredible story, and the writing is beautiful; clearly a lot of thought and meticulous research went into this book. I think I liked the first half better than the second, though, and wasn’t a huge fan of some of the (super graphic and pointless) torture scenes in the second half. Marta/Catherine is a 3.5 stars for me — I have a lot of thoughts and feelings about this book. I read the first half of it in 2 days, and then let 2 weeks go by before I picked it up and read the last half. This is an incredible story, and the writing is beautiful; clearly a lot of thought and meticulous research went into this book. I think I liked the first half better than the second, though, and wasn’t a huge fan of some of the (super graphic and pointless) torture scenes in the second half. Marta/Catherine is a warrior, and seeing her rise so high in life from a peasant to Empress of Russia was remarkable and stunning (she also didn’t know how to read!). I wished we had gotten some more insight into her relationship with her daughter, Elizabeth, though. I was so curious about that all throughout the book and didn’t feel like I got enough there.

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