Books & Literature

Book Review: Tsarina, by Ellen Alpsten

HISTORICAL FICTION: The story of Catherine 1 of Russia, and how she rose from being a slave girl to the most powerful woman in the Empire.

For those who enjoy a good Cinderella story with a dash of Game of Thrones!

Tsarina tells the story of Marta, a strong-willed peasant girl whose determination to survive leads her to become Catherine I of Russia. At fifteen years of age, Marta is sold by her family to a wealthy merchant who is looking for a young woman to tend to more than just household chores. She and other members of staff are regularly abused, pushing her to breaking point. Forced to choose between life and death, she commits a crime and flees her life of slavery.

When the Great Northern War is fought at her door step, Marta cheats death at every turn, finding work as a washer woman in a war camp belonging to Peter the Great. Relying on her wits and formidable courage, she works to get his attention and eventually becomes his second wife.

Author Ellen Alpsten is a journalist for international publications such as Vogue, Standpoint and CN Traveller. Tsarina is her debut novel and the first and only account of the incredible rise of Catherine I of Russia from peasant to Empress.

The first person narrative provides a strong, resourceful and intelligent character. Marta is thrown challenge after challenge; experiences that would test anyone’s hope for a better future. However, Marta’s faith never falters. She refuses to give up or admit defeat. She looks at the hand she is dealt and she finds a way to work it to her advantage. She is a source of inspiration that we could all use in times of uncertainty.

Following Marta from the age of fifteen and finishing up with a summary of her time as Empress of Russia and her eventual death, there is a lot to fit into five hundred pages. However, Ellen does well to stick to the eventful moments avoiding any lulls in the story. The narrative moves at an engaging pace and the reader feels invested in the protagonist.

The novel also highlights the complete lack of morals in the Russian court of the time, but the history of any empire would likely result in a lot of similarities. Throughout the story there are moments of bloody violence, rape and a number of infant deaths, so some caution is advised for these potential triggers.

People who enjoy a good Cinderella story of rags-to-riches and romance with a dash of Game of Thrones should enjoy this book.

Reviewed by Jessica Incoll
Twitter: @littlejadventur

Distributed by: Bloomsbury Australia
Released: April 2020
RRP: $36.99

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