Valerie is invited to Tsarskoe Selo in 1914 to help the young Romanovs speak more English. She is impressed by Grigorii Rasputin, especially when he helps young Alexis, but cannot understand Count Pyotr Silakov’s dislike of the holy man and is soon deep in love with Pyotr. He, however, must marry the wealthy Sophia and wants Valerie as his mistress. She sees St Petersburg, the Crimea and Ukraine and comes to love the country. She introduces Pyotr’s crippled sister to Rasputin, who helps her begin to walk once more. Then, seeing Rasputin’s malign influence over women, she is thankful to leave the royal family and stay with Pyotr’s mother who becomes ill and needs a companion.
There is much well-researched description of Russia: balls at the Winter Palace, with descriptions of lavish gowns. Valerie sees the lives of the upper classes, but little of the peasantry. The emotions, dealt with so briefly, seem rather superficial. I suspect the author tried to include too much, but as a picture of Russia on the eve of the First World War and before the Revolution it is an intriguing read.