St. Petersburg, 1725. Peter the Great lies dying in his magnificent Winter Palace. The weakness and treachery of his only son has driven his father to an appalling act of cruelty and left the empire without an heir. Russia risks falling into chaos. Into the void steps the woman who has been by his side for decades: his second wife, Catherine Alexeyevna, as ambitious, ruthless and passionate as Peter himself.
Born into devastating poverty, Catherine used her extraordinary beauty and shrewd intelligence to ingratiate herself with Peter’s powerful generals, finally seducing the Tsar himself. But even amongst the splendor and opulence of her new life—the lavish feasts, glittering jewels, and candle-lit hours in Peter’s bedchamber—she knows the peril of her position. Peter’s attentions are fickle and his rages powerful; his first wife is condemned to a prison cell, her lover impaled alive in Red Square. And now Catherine faces the ultimate test: can she keep the Tsar’s death a secret as she plays a lethal game to destroy her enemies and take the Crown for herself?
So a little known tidbit about me: I had a brief period where I was truly OBSESSED with Russian history. Like, deeply into it. I read all kinds of books, studied up on folklore, you name it. I 100% blame Cathrynne (a fun theme here) Valente’s Deathless. But I digress.
This book is so very lush. It’s scary at times, but everything within is just so…rich. I understand why Catherine the Great made a LOT of the hard choices she was forced to make, while still being able to recognize that she was a hot mess of a human.
Not entirely a spoiler, but do be advised that there’s a somewhat graphic depiction of rape within the book. It’s not gratuitous or anything, but it exists. It’s historical, rural Russia. It’s. Yeah.
Marta, baby Catherine, had a really rough go at it from the very beginning, but she still had that deep seated fire to live, to survive. And honestly, more power to her!
Deep and dark, this is honestly the perfect book as we go into winter. I give Tsarina 4 out of 5 bottles of kvass. Thank you so much to St. Martin’s Press and NetGalley for providing a copy in exchange for review.