I LOVED Tsarina by Ellen Alpsten, so when I found out she was writing a novel about the daughter of Peter the Great and Catherine I, the heroine of her first novel, I knew I had to read it. The Tsarina’s Daughter was just as addicting, fun, and emotional of a read.

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The summary:

Ellen Alpsten’s stunning novel, The Tsarina’s Daughter, is the dramatic story of Elizabeth, daughter of Catherine I and Peter the Great, who ruled Russia during an extraordinary life marked by love, danger, passion and scandal.

Born into the House of Romanov to the all-powerful Peter the Great and his wife, Catherine, a former serf, beautiful Tsarevna Elizabeth is the envy of the Russian empire. She is insulated by luxury and spoiled by her father, who dreams for her to marry King Louis XV of France and rule in Versailles. But when a woodland creature gives her a Delphic prophecy, her life is turned upside down. Her volatile father suddenly dies, her only brother has been executed and her mother takes the throne of Russia.

As friends turn to foe in the dangerous atmosphere of the Court, the princess must fear for her freedom and her life. Fate deals her blow after blow, and even loving her becomes a crime that warrants cruel torture and capital punishment: Elizabeth matures from suffering victim to strong and savvy survivor. But only her true love and their burning passion finally help her become who she is. When the Imperial Crown is left to an infant Tsarevich, Elizabeth finds herself in mortal danger and must confront a terrible dilemma – seize the reins of power and harm an innocent child, or find herself following in the footsteps of her murdered brother.

Hidden behind a gorgeous, wildly decadent façade, the Russian Imperial Court is a viper’s den of intrigue and ambition. Only a woman possessed of boundless courage and cunning can prove herself worthy to sit on the throne of Peter the Great.

Buy The Tsarina’s Daughter here:

Amazon | Macmillan

Wow, what a book! I was hooked from the beginning, though this title did take me some time to read. I decided to step away from it in favor of a work reading project, but it was so easy to come back to. And once I got to the 50% point, I was hooked and couldn’t put this one down!

Elizabeth is the child of Peter the Great and Catherine I, the first Tsarina of Russia. She has led a life of both privilege and fear, and continued to do so until she eventually succeeded in a coupe and reigned as Tsarina. Her story was exciting with touches of Russian folklore. While Elizabeth had no children, Russia was like a child to her. She was a woman full of love for her romantic partners, her family line, and her country. Ellen Alpsten does a fantastic job of showing this character as someone who wasn’t always likeable at times and had to do some terrible things to get to her position, but always believed in not shedding a drop of Russian blood.

I will say that I know next to nothing of Russian history. While you don’t need to read Tsarina, the book about Elizabeth’s mother Catherine I, to understand this title, everything I read in the first book came flooding back to be quickly. I loved Alpsten’s interpretation of characters Catherine loved that Elizabeth either loved too or did not get along with. These people were complicated with varying motivations.

Elizabeth isn’t always likeable, but I feel she was loveable in her passion for her people and her country. I also really enjoyed the romance aspects of this story. Elizabeth’s belief that she would never have children after a Leshy spirit told her this as a child did not stop her from falling in love many times over and experiencing what joys of life she could.

Overall, this was a wonderful read. I am so thankful to have received an eARC and physical ARC in exchange for my honest review and to have been a part of this blog tour.

Find out more about how I rate books here.

The Tsarina's DaughterThe Tsarina’s Daughter by Ellen Alpsten
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I LOVED Tsarina and somehow loved The Tsarina’s Daughter even more. Elizabeth wasn’t always a likeable character, but I couldn’t help but root for her. Just like with Tsarina, though perhaps the first half took me some time to read (not due to slowness – these are just long books!), once I hit the second half I could not put this book down. My thanks for the ARC and look out for my full review and giveaway on bitchbookshelf.com this Saturday!

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Book Club Questions

  1. How did Elizabeth’s thoughts about some of the individuals she interacted with differ from her mother’s, either as shown in this book or from inferences you made if you read Tsarina?
  2. What events shaped Elizabeth into the person she was?
  3. Elizabeth lived a life of privilege at times, but borderline poverty at others. How would this affect a person?
  4. Why were so many people loyal to Elizabeth both as a person and as a potential ruler?

Author Bio

ELLEN ALPSTEN was born and raised in the Kenyan highlands. Upon graduating from L’Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris, she worked as a news anchor for Bloomberg TV London. Whilst working gruesome night shifts on breakfast TV, she started to write in earnest, every day, after work and a nap. Today, Ellen works as an author and as a journalist for international publications such as Vogue, Standpoint and CN Traveller. She lives in London with her husband, three sons and a moody fox red Labrador. She is the author of Tsarina.




Ivan is innocent—my little cousin is a baby, and as pure as only a one-year-old can be. But tonight, at my order, the infant Tsar will be declared guilty as charged.

I fight the urge to pick him up and kiss him; it would only make things worse. Beyond his nursery door there is a low buzzing sound, like that of angry bees ready to swarm the Winter Palace. Soldiers’ boots scrape and shuffle. Spurs clink like stubby vodka glasses, and bayonets are being fixed to muskets. These are the sounds of things to come. The thought spikes my heart with dread.

There is no other choice. It is Ivan or me. Only one of us can rule Russia; the other one is condemned to a living death. Reign- ing Russia is a right that has to be earned as much as inherited: he and my cousin, the Regent, doom the country to an eternity under the foreign yoke. Under their rule the realm will be lost, the invisi- ble holy bond between Tsar and people irretrievably severed.

I, Elizabeth, am the only surviving child of Peter the Great’s fif- teen sons and daughters. Tonight, if I hesitate too long, I might become the last of the siblings to die.

Curse the Romanovs! In vain I try to bar from my thoughts the prophecy that has blighted my life. Puddles form on the par- quet floor as slush drips from my boots; their worn thigh-high

leather is soaked from my dash across St. Petersburg. Despite my being an Imperial Princess—the Tsarevna Elizabeth Petrovna Romanova—no footman had hooked a bearskin across my lap to protect me against the icy wind and driving snow while I sat snug in a sled; I had no muff to raise to my face in that special graceful gesture of the St. Petersburg ladies, the damy. My dash toward my date with destiny had been clandestine: snowfall veiled the flicker- ing lights of the lanterns and shrouded the city. Mortal fear drove me on, hurrying over bridges, dodging patrolled barriers—the shlagbaumy—and furtively crossing the empty prospects, where my hasty passage left a momentary trace of warmth in the frosty air.

This was a night of momentous decision-making that I would have to live with forever. An anointed and crowned Tsar may not be killed, even once he is deposed, as it sets a dangerous precedent. Yet he may not live either—at least not in the minds of the Rus- sian people or according to the diplomatic dispatches sent all over Europe.

What then is to become of the boy?

I feel for Ivan’s limp little hand. I simply cannot resist—never could—nuzzling his chubby, rosy fingers, which are still too small to bear the Imperial seal. We call this game a butterfly’s kiss; it makes him giggle and squeal, and me dissolve with tenderness. I drink in his scent, the talcum powder blended in Grasse for his sole use— vanilla and bergamot, the Tsar’s perfume—carefully recording it to last me a lifetime. The men outside fall quiet. They are waiting for the decision that will both save and damn me. The thought sears my soul.

In Ivan’s nursery the lined French damask drapes are drawn. Thick, pot-bellied clouds hide the December new moon and stars, giving this hour a dense and dreadful darkness. During the day the seagulls’ cries freeze on their beaks; the chill of night grates skin raw. Any light is as scarce and dear as everything else in St. Petersburg. The candle-sellers’ shops, which smell of beeswax, flax, and sulfur, do brisk business with both Yuletide and Epiphany

approaching. On the opposite quay the shutters on the flat façades of the city’s palaces and houses are closed, the windows behind them dark. They are swathed in the same brooding silence as the Winter Palace. I am in my father’s house, but this does not mean that I am safe. Far from it—it means quite the opposite. The Win- ter Palace’s myriad corridors, hundreds of rooms, and dozens of staircases can be as welcoming as a lover’s embrace or as danger- ous as a snake pit.

It is Ivan or me: fate has mercilessly driven us toward this mo- ment. The courtiers shun me: no one would bet a kopeck on my future. Will I be sent to a remote convent, even though I do not have an ounce of nun’s flesh about me, as the Spanish envoy, the Duke of Liria, so memorably recorded? I had once been forced to see such an unfortunate woman in her cell; as intended, the sight instilled a terror that would last me a lifetime. Her shorn head was covered in chilblains, and her eyes shone with madness. A hunchbacked dwarf, whose tongue had been torn out, was her sole companion, both shuffling about in rotten straw like pigs in their sties. Or perhaps there is a sled waiting for me, destination Siberia? I know about this voyage of no return; I have heard the cries, seen the dread, and smelled the fear of the banished cul- prits, be they simple peasants or even the Tsar’s best friend. By the first anniversary of their sentence, all had succumbed to the harsh conditions of the East. Maybe a dark cell in the Trubetzkoi Bas- tion, the place nobody ever leaves in one piece, will swallow me; or things will be simpler, and I am fated to end up facedown in the Neva, drifting between the thick floes of ice, my body crushed and shredded by their sheer force.

The soldiers’ impatience is palpable. Just one more breath! Ivan’s wet nurse is asleep, slumped on her stool, resting amid his toys: the scattered pieces of a Matryoshka doll, wooden boats, a mechanical silver bear that opens its jaws and raises its paws when wound up, and a globe inlaid with Indian ivory and Belgian émail. One of the nurse’s pale breasts is still bare from the last feeding; she was

chosen for her ample alabaster bosom in Moscow’s raucous Ger- man Quarter. Ivan is well cared for: Romanov men are of weaker stock than Romanov women, even if no one ever dares to say so. I celebrated his first year as a time of wonder, offering my little cousin a cross studded with rubies and emeralds for his christening, a gift fit for a Tsar, and put myself in debt to raise an ebony colt in my stables as his Yuletide present.

Ivan’s breathing is growing heavier. The regiment outside his door weighs on his dreams. As I touch his sides, his warmth sends a jolt through my fingers, hitting a Gold in my heart. Oh, to hold him one more time and feel his delightful weight in my arms. I pull my hands back, folding them, though the time for prayers has passed. No pilgrimage can ever absolve me from this sin, even if I slide across the whole of Russia on my knees. Ivan’s lashes flutter, his chin wobbles, he smacks his pink and shiny lips. I cannot bear to see him cry, despite the saying of Russian serfs: “Another man’s tears are only water.”

The lightest load will be your greatest burden. The last prophecy is coming to pass. Spare me, I inwardly plead—but I know this is my path, and I will have to walk it to the end, over the pieces of my broken heart. Ivan slides back into slumber; long, dark lashes cast shadows on his round cheeks, and his tiny fists open, showing pink, unlined palms. The sight stabs me. Not even the most adept fortune-teller could imagine what the future has in store for Ivan. It is a thought that I refrain from following to its conclusion.

Beyond the door utter silence reigns. Is this the calm before the storm my father taught me to fear when we sailed the slate- colored waters of the Bay of Finland? His fleet had been rolling at anchor in the far distance, masts rising like a marine forest. “This is forever Russia,” he had proudly announced. “No Romanov must ever surrender what has been gained by spilling Russian blood.” In order to strengthen Russia, Father had spared no one. My elder half-brother Alexey, his son and heir, had paid the ultimate price for doubting Russia’s path to progress.

Steps approach. My time with Ivan, and life as we know it, is over. I wish this were not necessary. The knock on the nursery door is a token rasp of knuckles; so light, it belies its true purpose. It is time to act. Russia will tolerate no further excuses. The soldiers’ nerves are as taut as the spring in a bear trap. I have promised them the world: on a night like this, destinies are forged, fortunes made and lost.

“Elizabeth Petrovna Romanova?” I hear the captain of the Im- perial Preobrazhensky Regiment addressing me. His son is my godchild, but can I trust him completely for all that? I feel as if I am drowning and shield Ivan’s cradle with my body. In the gilt-framed mirrors I see my face floating ghostly pale above the dark green uni- form jacket; my ash-blond curly hair has slid down from beneath a fur cap. On a simple leather thong around my neck hangs the diamond-studded icon of St. Nicholas that is priceless to me. They will have to prise it from my dead body to take it from me.

I am almost thirty-two years old. Tonight I shall not betray my blood.

“I am ready,” I say, my voice trembling, bracing myself, as the door bursts open and the soldiers swarm in.

Everything comes at a price.