Tsarina by Ellen Alpsten

Net Galley provided me with this ARC (Advanced Readers Copy) of Tsarina by Ellen Alpsten.  The book was originally published in 2004, and is being re-released in October 2020.


Let me just start by saying that I read historical fiction, but usually concentrate on books whose subject with which I am familiar. I know a little about Russian History and Peter the Great, but nothing of his wife, Catherine I. So all the real stuff in this book was new for me.

To be honest, I almost gave up reading about 25% through. Why?  The story goes something like this: Threatened rape, fear of rape, then blow-by-bow detailed description of rape, repeated rape, murder, attempted rape, another detailed description of a gang rape.  Yeah, not my cup of tea. So I decided to try and trudge on and then I was able to read a detailed description of incest!

Once Marta (to be renamed Catherine) meets Tsar Peter, which is about 30% in to the book, it gets more interesting. There’s lots more detailed sex and debauchery that I could do without, (the author seems so have some obsession with describing a woman’s breasts), and the relationship of Catherine and Peter is explored.

Catherine gave birth 12, or was it 13 times, I lost count, yet she still had to deal with Peter cheating on her.  They both live for the hope of a boy, to replace the son Peter had with his first wife.  But this is approximately 1700, and children living to adulthood is a rarity.  Only three children survive Peter, and they are all girls.  What I do know of my Russian history lessons is that Peter’s middle daughter Elizabeth becomes ruler.  Beyond that, I’ll have to do my own independent reading to find out if the author’s portrayal of Catherine is even somewhat accurate.

I get it; life as a serf in Russia was rough, and life in Russia, even in a palace, was rough when you’re married to someone like Tsar Peter the Great.  I think the book explored those deprivations well, but this sort of book with all the graphic sex was not for me.

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