Friday, June 24, 2011
Book Review of #1 The Jewel of St. Petersburg by Kate Furnivall
Author Name: Kate Furnivall
Publisher: Berkley Trade
Type of book: Adult, historical, russia, 1910-1917
Year it was published: 2010
In this prequel to her debut novel, The Russian Concubine (2007), about White Russian Lydia Ivanova, Furnivall focuses on Lydia’s mother, Valentina, during the years leading up to and including the Russian Revolution of 1917. When Bolsheviks bomb her family’s country estate in 1910, crippling her younger sister, Katya, 17-year-old title character Valentina is left with guilt and resolve. With a slim frame but steely character, she defies both convention and her father, who is the czar’s minister of finance, first by training and working as a nurse and then by refusing to marry for money (in order to solve the family’s financial problems). Instead, she chooses the man she loves passionately, Dane Jens Friis, the czar’s engineer. Through the years, her hatred grows for Viktor Arkin, a Bolshevik leader once in the Ivanovas’ employ who develops an emotionally complicated relationship with the family. Furnivall portrays a country in dreadful conflict, with the grinding poverty of the masses fueling rebellion against the privileged classes.
I admit that it has been awhile since I read The Russian Concubine and Girl from Junchow so I don't know if the characters in any way resemble Lydia and the cast in the aforementioned books. The characters from both sides are drawn sympathetically, that is its hard to hate the antagonist Arkin, and at the same time its hard to hate Valentina and Jens Friis for being rich and upper class. Valentina is portrayed as a very strong and determined heroine who struggles between her origins and trying to do something for the poor. She and Jens are a good match for one another and one has to admire the language that Kate Furnivall uses when talking about Valentina's love and devotion towards Jens. There is no one in her heart but Jens. I felt a bit sad that Katya, Valentina's sister didn't get enough limelight. Popkov, the loyal Cossack towards Valentina and later on her daughter, is an interesting character and I kind of wish that it would explain in this book how he ended up in China with them. Arkin and Valentina's mother, Elizaveta(?) one can't help but feel sorry for them, even despite Arkin's deeds towards the Ivanov family.
The main theme of the novel is Valentina's struggle against her birthright and society's expectations amidst a nation ready for Revolution.
Even without reading the previous novels, you could still read it and not be lost, although, I think, reading the two novels will help make some sense of two things, at least when it relates to Valentina meeting Rasputin and him making a few predictions (which is an interesting twist to the historical character.)
Author of 'The Russian Concubine' novel, about two White Russian refugees, a mother and daughter without money or papers in an International Settlement in China. (From Katefurnivall.blogspot.com)
This book is written after The Girl from Junchow and The Russian Concubine, but yet its a prequel to them. I read The Girl from Junchow few years back and to be honest I didn't like that book that much, so with this said, my expectations for this book were low, and I kind of read it because I wanted to know more about Valentine, Jens Friis and Alexei. (In The Russian Concubine and The Girl from Junchow some conflicting information about Alexei is given so I wanted to know if this book answers the questions, and it does.) I did get to know them and learned where Lydia got her strength and loyalty from. I will re-read The Russian Concubine and The Girl from Junchow. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the book, and would really love to see Arkin in the future books. (Really, you can't help but feel sorry for him...)
4 out of 5
(0: Stay away unless a masochist 1: Good for insomnia 2: Horrible but readable; 3: Readable and quickly forgettable, 4: Good, enjoyable 5: Buy it, keep it and never let it go.)