Sedgwick plays on the fairy-tale motif to spin an intriguing tale that weaves together a famous children’s writer and the Russian Revolution.
Originally published in 2007 in the U.K., this import tells how Arthur Ransome, British author of children’s books, including the popular series Swallows and Amazons, became a spy as Russia went to war with itself. The book is divided into three distinct parts (just one of many fairy-tale “threes”). Ransome is also the author of Old Peter’s Russian Tales, and the first part of the novel reads like one of his folk tales. Drenched in atmosphere, it gives vivid depictions of snowy Russia while magical scenes set the backdrop of Arthur’s unhappy marriage and move to Russia, eerie portrayals of Rasputin and the czar’s family, and the rise of Trotsky and Lenin. The second part, told in the third person, is taut as Arthur counts down time to a clandestine rendezvous. Flashbacks provide details of his increasingly complicated life, working as a journalist, befriending Bolshevik leaders, falling in love with Trotsky’s secretary, and becoming a pawn for British authorities. The third part, told in Arthur’s voice, loses momentum as the writer inundates readers with the comings and goings of his personal life amid increased spy activity. Substantial backmatter fills in the gaps about the real Ransome.
While not one of his best, this nevertheless is trademark Sedgwick envelope-pushing. (author’s note, timeline, appendix) (Historical fiction. 13 & up)