REVIEW of The Jewel of St. Petersburg, by Kate Furnivall

In the years leading up to the Russian Revolution, the Bolsheviks agitate for change causing unrest throughout all of Russia. Valentina Ivanovna, a young Russian noblewoman, experiences their violence when a bomb blows up her father’s study permanently injuring her younger sister Katya. Consumed by an unwarranted guilt for this event, Valentina determines to devote the rest of her life to her sister’s wellbeing.

Valentina, like many other aristocratic ladies, has been brought up to marry well and bring honor to her family. Her small white hands are trained to play the piano, not for heavy labor. When she announces to her parents that she would like to become a nurse, they are shocked and forbid such a step. Instead, they attempt to force her into a marriage with an eligible Colonel of the Hussar regiment. What her family doesn’t know is that she has fallen in love with Jens Friis, a Danish engineer designing new sewer systems to improve the quality of life in St. Petersburg. Valentina and Jens begin a clandestine love affair in a world that is rapidly falling apart.

Meanwhile, the Bolsheviks’ violence and acts of terrorism are increasing daily. Unbeknownst to them, Valentina’s family has been employing a chaffeur who is not just a Bolshevik sympathizer but also the mastermind behind several bombings in St. Petersburg. The dangers increase dramatically until Valentina finds herself in the middle of a revolution that will overthrow her family, the tsar, and all of her hopes and dreams.

This book started out excellently. The prose was well-written and the characters were engaging. As Valentina and Jens’ love affair progressed, however, I found myself caring a little bit less about them. Explicit sex scenes lent a tawdriness to the tale, and the Bolshevik villains, such as the chaffeur, became less believable as the story wore on.

All in all, this book was an interesting picture of aristocratic life in Russia on the cusp of revolution. Although I felt that this story had some failings, I was impressed enough with Furnivall’s writing and research to want to read more of her novels.

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