A middle-aged Edinburgh librarian is sent back to 19th-century Russia with orders to complete an unspecified mission within a single calendar week of a year she can’t determine. Say what?
It’s no wonder that Shona McMonagle styles herself the crème de la crème. Not only does she do yeoman work at the Morningside Library, but as a restless alumna of the Marcia Blaine School for Girls, she’s honed such diverse skills as knife throwing and accordion playing. So Miss Blaine, suddenly appearing at the library, has no hesitation in dispatching her to an unnamed Russian town a hundred-something years ago to perform an important task that she’s sure Shona will recognize on her own. Naturally, Shona, whisked over the miles and decades, decides that her brief is to rescue novice socialite Lidia Ivanovna Chrezvychainodlinnoslovsky from the elderly general whom she seems fated to wed and match her instead with Sasha, the beautiful serf and protégé of a thoroughly irritating countess. Shona matter-of-factly accommodates herself to her new identity as Shona Fergusovna, aka Princess Tamsonova, and her own serf, a coachman named Old Vatrushkin who adamantly resists her efforts to raise his consciousness, but still faces several obstacles. Lidia Ivanovna is shy and retiring; she’s never so much as met Sasha; as Shona makes the rounds of the society hostesses most likely to organize parties that might bring them together, the hostesses develop a disconcerting habit of falling down staircases to their deaths; and Lidia Ivanovna turns out to have been on the scene of several of these fatalities. As if that weren’t bad enough, Shona, despite her finely honed research skills, just can’t figure out what year it is.
Wojtas’ debut is every bit as lighthearted, levelheaded, inventive, hilarious, and altogether enchanting as its heroine, who richly deserves another jaunt through time and space.