Last year in November, I read a stunning historical mystery on the world of Derby blue porcelain in England. It’s interesting that this year, I stumbled on another excellent historical mystery also in the world of art, this time in Russian on the Fabergé eggs and the Romanovs. Olga’s Egg was an amazing discovery, I’m so glad Clink Street approached me for their 12 days of Clink Street – though for some reason, I’m not listed on their event banner.
As some of you know, I’m Eastern Orthodox and very involved in my faith in its daily practicing and its liturgics. I have not read many novels that start with the Orthodox prayer for the departed, and an Orthodox priest doing a full prostration in front of the icon of the Theotokos! That was a very neat beginning.
The author is either Orthodox herself or very well informed, as all the liturgical details throughout the book were correct (including the priest’s vestments – and a glossary is provided at the end for those unfamiliar with that type of vocabulary) and very reverently presented. Some dates were even given with both the Julian and the Gregorian calendars!
And the Romanovs were also lovingly featured, which is far from being always the case.
After some major family event, Assia decided to work like her mother did, in the world of Fabergé eggs. She is currently preparing an important book on the topic, but then she hears about the discovery of an egg that no one has ever seen before. Though trusting what her mother told her about it, she has doubts about this item.
Times are difficult for Assia, with this unsettling discovery, with her tensed relationships with her father and her twin sister, because of what happened in their family. And on top of that, she can’t seem to be able to locate and communicate with Konstantin, a friend of her mother’s, also a Fabergé expert. Where is he? Why isn’t he answering her messages? Trying to find him and understand the nature of the new egg is going to lead her to more unsettling discoveries.
The novel is full of lavish descriptions of Russia, its landscape, its ambiance, its culture, and its art. Without forgetting its darker pages related to the Revolution, to the Soviet regime, and its aftermath.
For some reason, I kept rereading the following sentences. I really enjoyed the visuals. Though I could have quoted man other sentences.
A black cab ran through the blue neon shimmer of the Curzon sign which floated in a shallow puddle on the road.
In Chapter 1, page 3
The snow which lay on the iced water blurred the reflected light like blotting paper, is softness at once absorbing the light and emitting it.
In Chapter 10, page 77
As Assia travels from London to Saint Petersburg, to Moscow (with also modern details, such as Saint Vladimir’s statue, inaugurated at the Kremlin in 2016), and to Oxford, the reader experiences a wonderful plunge into Russian history and the Russian world of art.
I had heard about and seen pictures of Fabergé eggs, but really I knew nothing about their history and their connections with the Romanovs. It was totally fascinating.
I also enjoyed all the stories related to the Romanov children and their English tutor. I had read nothing about him. He had quite a journey from England to Russia, China, and back to England, where he founded an Orthodox chapel.
I loved the explanations given by the author in a note at the end of the book. I was more able to measure how she brilliantly integrated her excellent research into an intriguing novel, for instance about this tutor, but obviously also about the eggs and the current situation of research in this area — we still know of 7 Tsar Imperial eggs currently missing, and one was founded just a few years ago in the Midwest!
For me, a good historical novel needs both serious research AND great use of it in a story that fits and is well articulated. Sophie Law did this almost at perfection. She is an expert in Russian art and she knows what she is writing about.
I enjoyed the fact that through flashbacks, we learn only gradually about Assia’s past and what happened to her family.
The only element that sometimes bothered me was that I wasn’t always sure when a chapter was taking place, or even if it was a flashback. The book is organized a bit like a series of scenes in various time periods and places, and sometimes it was a mere juxtaposition for me without obvious connections. Things were thankfully made clear at the end.
The world of art is definitely part of current news. Incidentally, I read chapter 6 where the Dresden Green vaults are mentioned, and a theft in them had been reported the day before!
VERDICT: The Fabergé eggs as you never knew them. Intriguing, lavish, fascinating. My best historical novel of the year.
HAVE YOU READ THIS BOOK?
What’s your favorite historical novel related to art?
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In full compliance with FTC Guidelines, I received this book free of charge from the publisher. I was in no way compensated for this post as a reviewer, and the thoughts are my own.