I purchased Imogen Edwards-Jones’s The Witches of St. Petersburg (Harper, 2019) strictly because of the gorgeous, icy blue cover. As stunning as the cover is, it doesn’t begin to do the story justice – this is one of the more captivating premise-wise historical fiction novels I’ve picked up in a while, and I simply couldn’t put it down.
A little history before we get to the review is in order.
The Romanov imperial house ruled Russia from 1613 to 1917. When Alexander III died in 1894, his son Nicholas became emperor. Nicholas promptly married Alix of Hesse-Darmstadi, a favorite granddaughter of Queen Victoria. Nicholas, Alix, and their children were executed in 1918, and while this is mentioned in the epilogue, The Witches of St. Petersburg begins in 1889 and ends in 1916. It is important to note that while many of the characters and events are based in fact, this is very much a work of fiction.
The Black Sisters (named for their dark eyes), Militza and Anastasia “Stana,” are sent by their father, King of Montenegro, to marry distinguished figures in the Romanov court. Their objective is to advance their own positions and in doing so, that of their father and Montenegro. The St. Petersburg elite don’t approve of them. The sisters come from a poor country, and they are outsiders rumored to practice in the dark arts. Militza and Stana are the “witches” of St. Petersburg who carry the novel.
When Alexander III dies, the sisters seize the opportunity to make fast friends with the shy tsarina, Alix. Alix is immediately drawn to the pair, specifically Militza, when she learns of their magical gifts. As the years go by and she keeps having daughters and no sons, she enlists their assistance and talents to ensure she delivers an heir. After several failed attempts, a son is born; however, he has haemophilia and chances at survival are scarce. Wanting to further ensure her position within the royal family, Militza turns to some even darker magic to summon a spiritual shaman who can keep the child alive. From her hands, Rasputin is made and a Pandora’s box she cannot slam shut is opened.
Full of magic, betrayal, passion and privilege, The Witches of St. Petersburg is one romp of a ride. The basis in fact only makes it more enticing, and it is well written.
Read this book.