Maid of Baikal: An Alternative Historical Novel of the Russian Civil War

Written by Preston Fleming
Review by Cindy Vallar

Captain Edmund du Pont arrives in Siberia in November 1918 to establish wireless stations as part of the American Expeditionary Force’s aid to the White Russians fighting the spread of Bolshevism during the Russian civil war. As an intelligence agent, he seeks information that will help his president, the Siberian Army, and their allies. To that end he accompanies his Russian liaison officer to Lake Baikal, where he meets captivating eighteen-year-old Zhanna Dorokhina and a Russian priest with underground leanings.

Zhanna hears saintly voices – a definite sign of madness – but her sincerity convinces Ned that she is just as sane as he is. She needs Ned’s help to get to Omsk to deliver a message to Admiral Kolchak, the Commander in Chief of the Provisional Siberian Government. Although Ned initially refuses, the New Year brings them together again and this time, he complies. Time is of the essence if Zhanna is to save her country and people from the Bolsheviks, but there are powerful men who believe a woman’s place is in the home. Others, including the enemy, have no desire for Zhanna to fulfill the prophecy that a virgin from Baikal will save Russia.

Fleming expertly weaves corruption, status quo, survival, and chaos with Russian history and culture to create an intricate thriller that vividly reimagines “what if” the White Russian Army had triumphed over the Red. To orient readers, he provides a character list, photographs, maps, and musical interludes that capture each chapter’s mood. In this retelling of Joan of Arc’s story, Fleming transports readers to the past with rich historical detail, intermingling bleakness with hope in a way that permits us to better understand Russia’s complexities.