The Tsarina’s Daughter – by Ellen Alpsten – independent book review – Historical Fiction (Russia)

NOTE: I was given early access to this manuscript through Netgalley in exchange for writing an impartial review. Thank you St. Martin’s Griffin. Scheduled publication March 15, 2022.

I have always found Russian history fascinating, particularly the relationship between the Tsar and the people. So, after reading and enjoying Ellen Alpsten’s earlier novel, TSARINA (about Catherine I – Russia’s first female ruler), I was psyched to get early access to this follow-up novel Awarded three stars on Goodreads. But as it turns out, three stars is a bit of a gift.

I expected from the book description that this one would tell the story of Catherine I’s daughter, Tsarina Elizabeth. But it appears that THE TSARINA’s DAUGHTER is just the second of a three-novel series Alpsten plans about the Romanovs. And since this one ends with the accession of Elizabeth as Tsarina, I imagine the third novel will track her 20 years as Tsarina. Unfortunately for me, the story of Elizabeth’s first 30 years (before her accession) just didn’t hold up for 512 pages.

It’s NOT that this isn’t an interesting period in Russian history. After the 1725 death of Elizabeth’s father, Peter the Great, and during the following 16 years, there are no fewer than five different Tsars on the throne. So the story of Elizabeth during this period is all about being in and out of favor under different rulers and their ministers. She’s in, she’s out. She struggles, she prospers. But even while she’s overlooked by some Tsars, she remains popular among soldiers and people and is therefore a potential threat.

That in a nutshell is the core of this historical novel — the changing status of Elizabeth. Plus, a few romances. But it just wasn’t interesting enough to hold up for an entire book. Perhaps to make up for the repetitive nature of the events, the author instead has, in my opinion, included an excessive amount of flowery detail and description, some of which seems not only UNnecessary but occasionally, downright strange. A couple examples:
Chapter 59: “The gaze of her sour-cherry eyes was impenetrable.”
Chapter 84: “The sky over St. Petersburg looked like a badly wrung dishcloth, the clouds hanging low in the shade of stained yellow.”

Author Ellen Alpsten
Image from Curtis Brown

Even with my interest in this country and subject matter, I think this novel would have benefitted by telling Elizabeth’s FULL story, including her two decades on the throne. (Do I smell a sequel?) And a good editor could have helped cut a good 100 pages out of this manuscript. I guess I might still recommend this one, but only to those who share my interest in Russian history. But keep your expectations low.

More about the author, Ellen Alpsten.

You may be interested in my review of her earlier novel, TSARINA, which I heartily recommend.

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