The Witches of St. Petersburg by Imogen Edwards – Jones
Publisher: Head of Zeus
Publishing Date: 25th October 2018
Source: Received from the publisher via NetGalley, thank you!
Number of pages: 464
Genre: General Fiction (Adult), Historical Fiction
Inspired by real characters, this transporting historical fiction debut spins the fascinating story of two princesses in the Romanov court who practiced black magic, befriended the Tsarina, and invited Rasputin into their lives—forever changing the course of Russian history.
As daughters of the impoverished King of Montenegro, Militza and Stana must fulfill their duty to their father and leave their beloved home for St. Petersburg to be married into senior positions in the Romanov court. For their new alliances to the Russian nobility will help secure the future of the sisters’ native country. Immediately, Militza and Stana feel like outcasts as the aristocracy shuns them for their provincial ways and for dabbling in the occult. Undeterred, the sisters become resolved to make their mark by falling in with the lonely, depressed Tsarina Alexandra, who—as an Anglo-German—is also an outsider and is not fully accepted by members of the court. After numerous failed attempts to precipitate the birth of a son and heir, the Tsarina is desperate and decides to place her faith in the sisters’ expertise with black magic.
Promising the Tsarina that they will be able to secure an heir for the Russian dynasty, Militza and Stana hold séances and experiment with rituals and spells. Gurus, clairvoyants, holy fools, and charlatans all try their luck. The closer they become to the Tsarina and the royal family, the more their status—and power—is elevated. But when the sisters invoke a spiritual shaman, who goes by the name of Rasputin, the die is cast. For they have not only irrevocably sealed their own fates—but also that of Russia itself.
Brimming with black magic, sex and intrigue, The Witches of St. Petersburg is an exquisite historical fiction debut novel filled with lush historical details from the Romanov era.
“The Witches of St. Petersburg” introduces us to two sisters, princesses from Montenegro, married well into Russian aristocracy. However, no matter how much Militza and Stana try, they’re not being accepted by the court. They need the influence though – their father counts on Russian help, so the sisters ingrate themselves with the Tsar and Tsarina, bringing a holy man to help them conceive the son, the so – much – needed – to – boost – morale Heir to the throne. When it doesn’t work, they try magic and another holy man in the person of Rasputin – but are they going to loose all their influence with his arrival?
Even though my knowledge of Russian history is rather non – existent, there are some periods of times that pick my attention, and the Romanovs’ story is one of them. This book has for sure delivered in matters of the descriptions of the Russian aristocracy, their lives and all the ins and outs of the court life. There were balls and parties, jewellery, incredible dresses, tons of gossip and conspiring and I enjoyed those parts of this story very much. Yes, there came a moment that there was a ball one too many, that they started too feel like a copy of each other but I still think that they were the most colourful and best parts of this novel.
There are many characters in this book. Hundreds of them, actually. Brownie points go to the author for the names – list at the beginning of the novel, although my copy being on kindle I couldn’t just turn back the pages to see who is this character and what’s their background, and I had really huge problems to keep on track with all of them, especially as their names either sounded all the same or changed all the time. Still, the characters were ones of a kind. There came a moment that I stopped to try to understand them – they had their own motives and motivations and of course we have to take into consideration the times the story took place – people needed something all time, there were political businesses to be done and they were not afraid to stop at nothing. They were selfish and looking after their own business only – though is it different nowadays? But it was also fascinating to see how the two “Black Princesses” worked their way into the Palace, how irreplaceable they became to the Tsarina – a thing that so many have tried and failed at before them. They were incredibly interesting and different to all the characters that I usually read about. Especially Militza and her abilities, I was fascinated with her ability to see things other people didn’t notice, and of course with her magic skills. I think you could easily say that she was a powerful witch, but I also had a feeling that she was not a “complete” witch – she wasn’t able to do magic, just like that, she could use her skills only in particular aspects of life – or so, at least, it looked like for me.
I’m really in two minds about this book. It could be a great read but I had a feeling its potential hasn’t been used there. It felt chopped and not too coherent, and the jumping between things and events and time seemed as if it wasn’t planned. Some of the scenes were really too much for me – the half – developed chick, keeping of the miscarried fetus or simply the idea of the Tsarina dropping to her knees to eat someone’s vomit… I’m not too soft nor sensible but well, no. Just no. On the other hand, I do understand that the story needed it. And to be honest, the pace felt too slow. It is a large book, with almost 500 pages and it simply started to feel repetitive – the sisters try to help the Tsarina all over again, they attend one ball after another and they’re not accepted and are being called they’re witches smelling of goats we get this on repeat. There was so much potential in this book, and some really interesting concepts but the development was what was being missed for me. It was as if the author had some great ideas but didn’t know how to execute them.
“The Witches of St. Petersburg” is a book that plays with supernatural, with dark magic, with paganism. In a brilliant way it describes the shallowness of the Russian aristocracy, it deals with using and being used. The characters are full of charisma and even though you may not understand all of them, I think you’re still going to appreciate them for their personalities. It was vivid, engaging and gave a great insight into Russian history – in retrospect you can’t help but understand the fact of the revolution, with Tsar under cocaine influence and his wife, not being able to think for herself without asking Rasputin for an advice. A captivating and different read about power, about favours, mixing reality with supernatural.
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