Open on breathtaking St. Petersburg, Russia, in the second decade of the 20th century. Tsar Nicholas and his wife, Alexandra, host glittering balls at their palaces, where their four daughters --- Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia --- dance the night away. As TSARINA begins, yet another celebration brings out the nobles and royals to the dance floor. Even Tsarevich Alexei --- the Tsar’s precious son and heir who suffers from hemophilia --- is trotted out for the occasion.
Author J. Nelle Patrick paints the scene in exquisite detail, down to the silk slippers and minute details of the embroidery on ladies’ gowns. Our heroine, the young noblewoman Natalya, is caught up in a romantic fantasy as she dances with Tsarevich Alexei. She’s passionately in love with the handsome prince and foresees a grand future for them --- to be together, forever, at the head of Imperial Russia.
Alexei escorts Natalya --- or “Natashenka,” a diminutive he affectionately calls her --- to a secret room off the tsar’s own salon. What’s a prince got to show off? A jewel, of course. But this isn’t just any gem. This Faberge egg is one special piece of bling. It’s bright blue, sparkles with little diamonds and is imbued with magic powers from now-dead monk Rasputin --- hated advisor to Empress Alexandra. The Constellation Egg, as it’s dubbed, protects the tsar and his family. Alexei proceeds to prove this, much to Natalya’s shock.
TSARINA paints a veneer of magical realism over the tragedies that befell Nicholas and his family.
As the two teenage lovebirds bond over their secret knowledge, danger is right outside their window. The Communist party --- referred to as the “Reds” --- is at war with the opposition, the “Whites.” Riots rock the streets of St. Petersburg and blood streams through the street, turning the snow crimson beneath citizens’ feet. Natalya dismisses the rebels as nothing more than troublemakers, out to stir up public opinion against the tsar, and dreams of the day when she will be able to show her love openly for Alexei.
But history --- or fiction --- doesn’t always favor lovers. As Alexei and his family flee to a safer palace in search of refuge from the Reds, Natalya is left behind, trying to pick up the pieces of her life. The royalist dream she spun out of imagination and hopes has shattered ---- the Romanov family she so loved is no more. The Constellation Egg still exists, though, and its fate --- and all of Russia’s --- might just rest in the hands of one lonely girl.
Patrick beautifully portrays the chaotic upheaval of pre-Revolution Russia from a little-seen perspective --- that of a monarchist. All historical inaccuracies aside, TSARINA paints a veneer of magical realism over the tragedies that befell Nicholas and his family. Out of ruin, Patrick allows a tendril of hope to spring eternal.
Reviewed by Carly Silver on February 19, 2014