The Jewel of St Petersburg by Kate Furnivall

Okay, just finished reading this novel by Kate Furnivall, the author of the Russian Concubine and the Concubine’s secret.

To be honest, at first I thought I had read these books in the wrong order and had missed the start and I was a little unsure about reading this one as it is actually the prequel to the Russian Concubine.  I’m not totally enamoured about reading about what came ‘before’ when I already know what’s about to come ‘after’.  That being said I’m actually glad I read the books in this order as it makes certain passages have more impact because you know what will come later.  It was also really interesting to visit the early years of Valentina and put some meat on the bones there because although I enjoyed her character in The Russian Concubine it was very slim on detail – similarly with Liev Popkov.

The book starts in the late 1900s when a young Valentina Ivanova, daughter to the Finance Minister for Tsar Nichollas II, takes an early morning ride in the forests of her families grounds and stumbles across a band of men creeping through the undergrowth.  Valentina is briefly captured by these men but on managing to escape finds her family home has been ripped apart by a bomb and her younger sister very badly injured.

Valentina has a very determined character throughout this book and was never the type to bat her eyelashes and simper behind a fan but the above sequence of events sets her on a new path in life.  She decides to devote her life to looking after her sister Katya and in that respect lands upon the idea of becoming a nurse.  As you can imagine, her family, as members of the artistocracy, are deeply against this scheme, but reluctantly come to a compromise in order to ‘convince their daughter into a loveless marriage.

Meanwhile Valentina has met Jens, a Danish engineer, and they start a passionate romance.

This whole story is epic in scope.  We have this turbulent period of Russian history being dramatically brought to life on the pages of the book, coupled with the struggle of Valentina and Jens to see each other in spite of huge opposition.  We have the struggles and strifes of the proletariat.  And on top of that we have to deal with this character ‘Arkin’ who used to be the Ivanov’s chauffeur but was also playing a major part in the uprising.

I enjoyed this read very much in fact out of the whole series I enjoyed this probably the most.  I like the characters Jens and Valentina, they were passionate and devoted.  They were also sympathetic and understanding to the feelings of the poor people whose lives were so dire.

You couldn’t help but be sympathetic to the poor people of Russia.  Their lives were dreadful.  There living conditions absolutely appalling.  They had no money and were surrounded by disease.  Small wonder indeed that there was an uprising (not that I’m saying the methods involved were particularly palatable).  Anyway, basically, I’m not a historian so, I have no idea whether this novel is true to events, however, it does paint a vivid picture.

Arkin was a strange character.  Every now and again something almost ‘human’ came out of him – but, to be frank, it was so fleeting that it was still difficult to find anything redeemable about the man.

My favourite character of the book has got to be Liev – I would definitely read a prequel to his life story!

I’ve read all three of Kate Furnivall’s books now, I really enjoyed the Russian Concubine but thought the Concubine’s Secret was not as good and now to top it all the Jewel of St Petersburg.  Definitely, I would say, the best one yet – even though it’s a sequel (so go figure!).

Also, if you enjoy this novel – please check out the Bronze Horseman (OMG what an epic romance!)

Anyway, one book at a time.

Rating A

The Concubine’s Secret by Kate Furnival

This story follows on from The Russian Concubine, although it could probably be read as a stand alone.  We pick up with Lydia who is travelling across Russia accompanied by her brother Alexei and her friend/guardian angel Liev Popov (the Cossack).  I like Liev in both these novels.  Lydia and Alexei are searching for their father who was previously thought to have died when Lydia’s family were originally escaping from Russia.  They now both know that their father did not die but was held as a prisoner and they are making the long journey across Russia to find him.

I like the setting of this novel and I also like the period.  The Russian Concubine was similarly set during a very interesting period and place and this (with both books) was what kept my attention.  I didn’t dislike this book but equally I didn’t love it.   Perhaps if it was described differently I would have had different expectations but it is written about as being a love story and for me the love story element is not convincing at all.  In fact I would go so far as to say that Lydia and Chang an Lo’s relationship is a bit dull.  I prefer Alexei’s character and I think Liev is definitely more lovable.  Lydia and Chang also seem to have their own doubts and don’t seem totally convinced of their relationship.  It’s puzzling.

The other thing that really rings false is the way Lydia behaves.  The whole of Russia is gripped with fear.  Everybody afraid to talk to everybody else – nobody speaking their opinions for fear of reprisals and yet Lydia (who is certainly not a ‘blend in’ type of character) seems to experience no such fear and rushes around the place in a constant whirlwind of activity and loveliness (that everyone is envious of), money, secret identities, apartments and friends seem easy to come by and none of the scared, grey, nondescript people who share the same building seem to pay her any attention.  She comes and goes at what ever time she pleases, is bolshy with ‘unsavoury types’ and has clandestine meetings with a member of a Chinese delegation – which would be highly frowned upon – and yet no reprisals are forthcoming.  Alright, I get that she is gorgeous but is that really all it takes? I don’t know, everything else is described as so flat, and grey and Lydia is the only shining light.

Also, and this is a slight spoiler alert – but I really don’t think anybody would forgive Elena!  I certainly wouldn’t – now maybe that makes me a very unforgiving sort of person but I struggle to believe that, in the day and age they were living and the conditions, Lydia would forgive Elena for what she does – frankly I think she would have been despised by most people for what she did and yet at the end of the novel she’s in a relationship with Liev – which just seems wrong.  I don’t doubt that Liev deserves somebody who loves him and will care for him but I wished it had been a more likable character.  What she did was wrong but there are no come backs and more to the point Liev doesn’t know who or what he is getting involved with.

This all probably sounds very critical and I don’t intend it to be so.  On the whole I enjoyed both these books (although I preferred the first) and I will definitely read the third book when it comes along.  I thought this was a good story and well told with action and adventure – definitely picking up at the end and setting everything up for the next novel.

Also, I didn’t guess the Concubine’s Secret!

Rating -B

The Concubine's Secret

The Concubine's Secret