Reviewed by Jennifer J.

Set in the years leading up to the Russian Revolution of 1917, The Jewel of St. Petersburg by Kate Furnivall is the story of aristocratic pianist Valentina Ivanova during a bleak period in Russian history. The daughter of a financial minister to Tsar Nicholas II, Valentina is expected to uphold a certain set of expectations. However, Valentina has no interest in the fancy balls, gowns, or handsome military leaders that are part of a young aristocrat’s daily life. Instead, Valentina’s interests lie in becoming a nurse and marrying Jens Friis, a Danish engineer.

Valentina’s father Nicholai has other plans for her, forcing her into an engagement with wealthy Captain Chernov to save himself from monetary debts. Torn between her duty to her family and her love for Jens, Valentina determinedly sets out to find a way to satisfy both her father and her own longings. As Valentina and Jens finally come together as man and wife, the Bolsheviks’ plot to overthrow the Tsar becomes a reality.

The Jewel of St. Petersburg was my introduction to Kate Furnivall’s works, and I found it a challenging read. As I was reading, I wanted to kick myself for not brushing up on Russian history. Furnivall makes it very obvious that there is friction between the working class and the aristocracy, but I wish she had provided more explanation on the political structure. There were a lot of titles used (Duma, for example) that I can’t remember having come across before this novel.

[amazonify]0425234231[/amazonify]Though the characters were well written and easily distinguished from one another, I was disappointed to find that I didn’t care much for any of them, including Valentina. She is fiercely independent and outspoken, and clearly loves and would do anything for her sister Katya. Those traits are admirable, but there are other instances where Valentina comes across as naive, irrational, and even despicable.

Throughout it all, Jens remains steadfast in his love for Valentina, and she proves that she is willing to do absolutely anything to be with him. The working class is best represented by Victor Arkin, the Ivanov family’s former chauffeur. While I wanted to sympathize with him, he repeatedly did one thing after another to destroy Valentina and her family. The energy he spent hating aristocrats could have been put to better use by supporting causes that would peacefully improve the government.

The history of Russia and the fall of the Romanov Dynasty has always fascinated me, and because of it I will try Kate Furnivall’s earlier works. I am especially interested in reading The Russian Concubine, which follows the life of Jens and Valentina’s daughter, Lydia.

Jennifer graduated from the University of Utah with a BA in English. She occasionally dabbles with her own fiction writing, particularly with the Young Adult and Paranormal genres. She currently resides in Utah with her husband and daughter.

This book was provided free of any obligation by Berkley Trade. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.