The Tsarina’s Daughter

Written by Ellen Alpsten
Review by Christine Childs

The Tsarina’s Daughter is Kenyan-born, London-based Ellen Alpsten’s second historical novel and is part of a trilogy about the Russian aristocracy at the time of the Romanovs. Set from 1723 to 1741, the story is written from the perspective of Elizabeth, the younger daughter of Tsar Peter the Great and his second wife, who became Tsarina Catherine I.

The two decades in which the book is set were a turbulent and unsettling period in Russia, with many changes to the monarchy and, consequently, Elizabeth’s position at court. She had to navigate an increasingly dangerous situation where she went from riches to rags and back again, in the blink of an eye. Elizabeth is a complex character, sometimes superstitious, impulsive and emotional, but then strategic and strong-willed. She is driven to fight for her own survival, birthright and the Russia she loves, amidst treachery and deception.

The Tsarina’s Daughter is not a novel for the faint-hearted. The complexity of the Russian political situation and multitude of characters can be confusing, although there is a useful list of people and titles for the reader’s reference. The author masterfully maintains tension and intrigue throughout the novel, unfolding the plot at an exciting pace.

Alpsten has created an epic series that depicts all of the excesses, cruelty and abuse of power of the period and that highlights the vast gulf between the privileged rich and impoverished peasants. If you are a fan of Russian history, royalty of the 18th century or dynastic family dramas, then The Tsarina’s Daughter (and its predecessor, Tsarina) will be an enjoyable novel for you.