The Jewel of St Petersburg

Written by Kate Furnivall
Review by Ann Northfield

In 1910, Valentina Ivanova is arguably the most beautiful girl in aristocratic circles of St. Petersburg. In addition, she is an accomplished pianist who attracts the attention of a Danish engineer, Jens Friis. When a revolutionary’s bomb shatters the Ivanovs’ summer home, crippling their younger daughter, Katya, Valentina’s perspective changes. She decides to become a nurse so she can care for her sister. Her bankrupt father, however, has other plans. He has arranged a marriage for her with the wealthy Hussar, Count Chernov, whom Valentina despises for his blind snobbery and conceit. She prefers the intelligent engineer. Valentina bargains with her father that if he allows her to study nursing, she will agree to an engagement with Count Chernov. Adding to her troubles, Valentina discovers the family chauffeur is a revolutionary. She does not report him. To further complicate matters, her mother takes the chauffeur as a lover. Jens Friis arranges a lucrative business deal for Valentina’s father, and he allows Valentina to marry Jens. All this family drama plays out against the background of the pending revolution with a dramatic ending.

As a prequel to The Russian Concubine and, chronologically, the first in a series that ends with The Girl from Junchow, Ms Furnivall eloquently brings alive the decade immediately preceding the collapse of the Romanovs. The denial of the opulent aristocratic class as it careens to destruction is juxtaposed with the inhuman conditions of a working class drowning in the riptide of revolution. Despite the complicated plot, The Jewel of St. Petersburg is a fast- paced and exciting read. It is, perhaps, the best of the series.