Two forgotten figures from the last days of Imperial Russia work their dark magic in this chilling historical fantasy from Edwards-Jones (Restaurant Babylon, 2013, etc.).
Militza and Anastasia, known as “Stana,” may be princesses, but their home country of Montenegro is embarrassingly impoverished. Fulfilling their duty as daughters, they each manage to marry high-ranking members of the Russian aristocracy but are still ridiculed by the wealthy St. Petersburg society for coming from a “feudal backwater.” When Czar Nicholas II is crowned and the social hierarchy is up in the air, Militza seizes the opportunity to position herself and Stana close to the new czarina, Alexandra. Both sisters, Militza in particular, have an aptitude for black magic, and with the help of their unusual talents, they soon enjoy the power that comes from being Alexandra’s closest friends. But when the long-awaited heir to the throne, Alexei, is born with hemophilia, the sisters must push their knowledge of the occult to its limits to find him a healer. One Grigory Yefimovich Rasputin is happy to answer their prayers, but he may turn out to be more than they bargained for. Covering almost 30 years of history, the book has spots that feel rushed and moments where one feels the characters getting lost in the sea of historical events and political context. But all the same, Edwards-Jones has done an impressive job of taking what was clearly extensive research and injecting it with narrative flair. Passing knowledge of the Russian Revolution will spoil the ending, but the court intrigue, mysterious black magic, and tense political drama keep the pages turning and the thrills coming.
Sure to delight history buffs and dark fantasy lovers alike.