ARC Review: The Fabergé Secret by Charles Belfoure

It’s not just the British royal family that captures my interest. I also have a passing interest in Russian History and the Russian Revolution. So I was happy to pick up the historical fiction novel The Fabergé Secret (Amazon) from NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion. The book’s release date is January 5, 2021.

From the publisher:  “St Petersburg, 1903. Prince Dimitri Markhov counts himself lucky to be a close friend of Tsar Nicholas II and Tsarina Alexandra. Cocooned by the glittering wealth of the Imperial court, the talented architect lives a life of luxury and comfort, by the side of his beautiful but spiteful wife, Princess Lara. But when Dimitri is confronted by the death and destruction wrought by a pogrom, he is taken aback. What did these people do to deserve such brutality? The tsar tells him the Jews themselves were to blame, but Dimitri can’t forget what he’s seen. Educated and passionate, Doctor Katya Golitsyn is determined to help end Russian oppression. When she meets Dimitri at a royal ball, she immediately recognizes a kindred spirit, and an unlikely affair begins between them. As their relationship develops, Katya exposes Dimitri to the horrors of the Tsar’s regime and the persecution of the Jewish people, and he grows determined to make a stand . . . whatever the cost.”

First, I appreciated the fact that the author explained what Russian or Jewish words or phrases meant. Seriously, that’s a big deal to me. So often I read books where another language is sprinkled in and there’s no translation, so I’m left to try and figure out what the phrases meant.

I immediately connected with Prince Dimitri, even though his life is so unlike my own. In a loveless marriage to the Imperial Court’s top gossip, they live in a world of opulence and discreet affairs. Dimitri is also Tsar Nicholas’ closest friend. Unlike most of the aristocracy, Prince Dimitri has a job as an architect. It is my understanding that the author is, too, and that is made clear by the detailed descriptions of structures Dimitri is working on.

Dimitri is still a royalist until he meets a young woman doctor, Katya, and witnesses the after effects of a pogrom where he sees Jewish people brutally beaten and killed, including young children. He begins to doubt Tsar Nicholas’ handling of the situation, and soon, the running of the country.

Katya is just the antidote Dimitri needs from his loveless marriage and meaningless affairs. He finds his soul mate, despite their different stations in life. Katya opens his eyes even further to the true poverty of the peasants in Russia, not just the splendor of the ruling class. Soon, the two start a discreet relationship and Dimitri attends meetings where talk of a non-violent, peaceful revolution against the Tsar is discussed. Dimitri mainly stays quiet at these meetings, but he’s always listening, and thinks he could slowly convince the Tsar that a constitutional monarchy is what the country needs.

The persecution of the Jews is described and the Tsar’s obvious hate for the people he thinks killed his grandfather with a bomb comes through. There are repeated scenes of the Russian army attacking the non-provoking Jews. Dimitri and Katya witness this and become even more committed to the cause of peaceful revolution. Dimitri’s attempts to convince the Tsar of loosening restrictions against the Jews or giving the peasants more freedoms go nowhere. Tsar Nicholas is obstinate on those two subjects.

So, you might be wondering what all of this has to do with Faberge. The Tsar’s household is filled with spies, who pass notes to each other in code by placing notes inside the famous Faberge eggs in the display room in the palace. The reader might be surprised to find out who or who isn’t a revolutionary spy.

I wasn’t sure how the book was going to end up, either with Dimitri being arrested and executed for treason, going into hiding and continuing his revolutionary aspirations in Russia, or escaping the country. The Fabergé Secret (Amazon) was a quick read, and had a satisfying conclusion. The only thing I wished for this ARC, as I wish all historical fiction to do, is have an Afterword, explaining what exactly was fact and what was the imagination of the author. I have only done a little reading about the Tsar and his family, so I do not know enough of Russia’s backstory to say whether everything described is true, although I do know that some of it is.

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