The Ice Swan

Written by J'nell Ciesielski
Review by Waheed Rabbani

In 1917 Petrograd, Russia, while “the night burned red with flames of revolution,” Princess Svetlana, her mother, and sister flee the city. They are assisted by Svetlana’s friend, Sergey, and manage to board a train, without Sergey, bound for Paris. Her father and brother are away fighting the Bolsheviks. They survive in Paris using the few jewels sewn in their corsets but live miserable lives, sharing a church’s basement room, partitioned by blankets, with several other Russian émigrés. Svetlana’s mother runs up a massive gambling debt at the White Bear Club. The club’s owner, Sheremetev, makes Svetlana dance at the club for the debt. Svetlana suffers a minor injury and is treated at a hospital by Wynn MacCallan, a surgeon and Scottish marquis. Wynn is enamored with Svetlana, but she is cold to his advances. However, when Wynn proposes marriage and to pay off the debts, Svetlana agrees. They also make a major move to evade the bloodthirsty Bolsheviks but must face other demons.

This is an unusual historical romance penned by the award-winning J’nell Ciesielski. Her extensive research into the lives of Russian noble émigrés escaping the Russian Revolution to Paris shows in the narrative. While the characterization of Svetlana having an ice-cold demeanor might seem odd given her circumstances, it is befitting that of a Russian aristocrat, a princess. It’s like a Cinderella story when Wynn, a man of some means, falls in love with Svetlana. The novel is well written, with superb similes and metaphors. The romantic dialogue is not only entertaining but conveys the characters’ meaning succulently. Wynn’s talents as a surgeon are aptly displayed at appropriate moments to raise his esteem in readers’ minds. The inclusion of villains and interesting minor characters keeps the storyline moving briskly. Highly recommended.