Historical fiction at its finest (and I am not over exaggerating). Not since Pam Jenoffs, The Kommandants Girl, have I literally felt pulled back through time because of the fantastic storytelling of a truly brilliant author. Not only that, but as a true fan of Tsar Nicholas II, Alexandra, Rasputin, and that whole time period, this could not have dropped into the lap of a better reviewer.
We begin our story with young Valentina Ivanova. Now Valentina is a much beloved character already; she debuted in Ms. Furnivalls first novel, The Russian Concubine as the beloved mother of Lydia Ivanova. But here, we get to go back to the very beginning of Valentinas life; the time and place where she became the strong, classy, elegant heroine she turned out to be.
Shes seventeen when we begin this story, living on her fathers estate located in Tesovo, Russia in 1910. Her father is a General a much beloved and trusted minister to Tsar Nicholas II, so she as well as her family are looked at by the Russian commoners and hard workers as the enemy in their midst. The Bolsheviks are readying for their Revolution and they cant wait to throw these wealthy, illustrious families off their thrones.
Valentina had woken this morning, gotten on her horse, and raced into the woods bordering the estate. Unfortunately, what she sees in the darkness of the mighty trees are men in black hoods, hunters who are there to make sure her father is one of the first to lose his life. They attack Valentina and try with all their might to capture her but she escapes and literally bumps into Liev the son of her fathers stable master. Off they rush back to the estate, hoping that they can stop the killers and save her family. But just as the house comes into view, a wing is blown to smithereens the wing that is home to her fathers study. Valentina rushes to the house and finds that it was her young sister Katya who is harmed; the poor girl had woken up and was searching the big window to try and locate her missing sister. The guilt is so immense that Valentina swears upon everyones soul that she will protect poor Katya for the rest of her life and make sure that she has a chance to walk again.
Time passes and the reader is brought to Valentinas school, where she sits and plays piano during a recital for the Tsar, himself. During the performance, however, a man that shes only seen once before in her life a man who she fell in love with appears in the performance hall. His name is Jens Friis, and he is a man who wants nothing more than to help the workers in St. Petersburg get more money and better living conditions, even though he is counted among their enemies. What he also wants more than anything is the beautiful Valentinas heart, who survives on the fire of vengeance and anger churning in her soul.
Jens and Valentina make the most unlikely couple she being part of the wealthy aristocracy and he being a Danish engineer who doesnt seem to know who to help. Unfortunately, although Valentinas heart belongs to the Dane with fiery red hair and green eyes, her society parents push her into a loveless marriage with a ruthless Russian Count in order to make sure she mixes with her own kind of society. Meanwhile, with everything else that is going on in her own life, Valentina can feel the anger flowing through the streets while the Tsar and the Duma walk down the road to war.
With everything from the beautiful scenery and landmarks of St. Petersburg, to the well-written heroine who faced down everything from pain and loss to brutality and political upheaval, there wasnt a dull moment on any page of this book. Delving into the Russian world during that time period is always an extremely interesting experience watching the downfall of the Tsar and the uprising of the people from Valentinas perspective was a whole new take on the strange and frightening world back then. Not only that, but the love story will hit you to your very core.
The Jewel of St. Petersburg could not be more appropriately named, because it is most certainly a jewel to me. From the locations to the characters, this walk through history is like a movie that you will never want to end. This time period held so many adventures for Valentina, that it was an absolute joy for a reader whod already fallen in love with her in The Russian Concubine to see how it all began.