It’s 1917, and 16-year-old Russian noble Natalya feels confident of her future: She’ll become tsarina when she marries Romanov heir Alexei and live a life filled with glittering parties and beautiful gowns. Her plans seem especially secure when Alexei shows her a Fabergé egg that’s been infused with magical healing powers by royal advisor Grigori Rasputin. The protection offered by the Constellation Egg may be an especially valuable antidote to the threat posed by the Reds, a revolutionary group who oppose the absolute power of the monarchist Whites.
After violence breaks out one winter night, Natalya and her friend Emilia, along with an unexpected companion, begin a journey that soon has them chasing the Egg from St. Petersburg across the Russian countryside to Moscow. Meanwhile, a group of Russian mystics also seeks the Egg for their own ends. As the two sets of searchers converge, Natalya finds herself questioning her previously held distinctions between right and wrong, royals and commoners, and even Whites and Reds. How can the two sides, with their radically different views, both claim to be pursuing the best interests of their beloved homeland? Tsarina’s finale leaves readers open to wondering what’s coming next, and leaves the story open to a sequel.
YA author J. Nelle Patrick, who also writes under the name Jackson Pearce, blends magical realism with the events surrounding the start of the Russian Revolution, a natural pairing in view of Rasputin’s reputed association with the supernatural. An author’s note clarifies some, but not all, of the historical details that have been conflated or modified and which are based in reality.
With its early-20th-century setting and its focus on romance blooming among the constraints of social class, Tsarina is a great choice for teen fans of period drama “Downton Abbey” or devotees of the emerging genre of historical fantasy.
Jill Ratzan reviews for School Library Journal and works as a school librarian at a small independent school. She learned most of what she knows about YA literature from her terrific graduate students.