Review: Tsarina by Ellen Alpsten

This was a book that I was looking forward to all year. I was pitched it way back in March or April I think and I had it circled on my calendar for my fall reading. I don’t know that I loved the cover art but I thought the story sounded great.

I don’t know much about the Russian monarchy but because I don’t know much about it, I always find books about Russian monarchs fascinating. Like many readers, whenever I think of Russian historical fiction I always think of the Romanovs but this book is not that which was just one more reason why it appealed to me—-something different.

When it was time to start reading this one, I was thrilled and couldn’t wait to sit down and get lost for a few days into a new world of courtiers and politics of the Russian monarchy.


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?

From the sensuous pleasures of a decadent aristocracy, to the incense-filled rites of the Orthodox Church and the terror of Peter’s torture chambers, the intoxicating and dangerous world of Imperial Russia is brought to vivid life. Tsarina is the story of one remarkable woman whose bid for power would transform the Russian Empire.” (summary from Goodreads)


So, I don’t know that this was exactly what I was expecting it to be. I think I was expecting more history and less sex. Don’t get me wrong, I am not opposed to some graphic lustiness but I was just not expecting it in this one. I was expecting something like a Russian version of a Phillipa Gregory novel and while I did get some of those vibes, there was definitely a lot of sex and rape to this one that I wasn’t expecting.

I was expecting a lot more history than I got in this one. I could almost have accepted the limited history but the flat characters just did nothing for me. I never really felt a connection to any of the characters in this one and I thought it would have been nice to have more about Catherine’s reign included in this novel. This was mostly focused on her early time at court rather than her reign and I wish we had more of a balance and I think it could have made Catherine more exciting and developed rather than falling back on the sexual elements in this one.

The first half of the book went really quickly for me but then somewhere between 50 and 60% through, I started to feel like it didn’t flow as well and I struggled to continue. I don’t know if it was just over the court life by that time or just not connected to the characters but something about midway through just stalled for me.

While I didn’t feel that this book was a ‘waste of time’ and I didn’t think it was ‘bad’ I just don’t think that it was for me. I know that plenty of people loved it but I think that having it marketed as a historical fiction about the monarchy down played the amount of sex and rape in this one and I think as a result some readers might feel like it was misrepresented.

Overall I think this one was ok but just not for me. I know that plenty of people enjoyed it, and I enjoyed the first half, but somewhere along the way it lost my attention. I am so bummed because I have been looking forward to it for months and wanted to love it more than I did, but sadly I had to go with a 2 star (ok) rating for this one.

Book Info and Rating

Hardcover, 496 pages

Expected publication: November 10th 2020 by St. Martin’s Press

ISBN1250214432 (ISBN13: 9781250214430)

Free review copy provided by publisher, St Martin’s Press, in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own and in no way influenced.

Rating: 2 stars

Genre: historical fiction, romance


One thought on “Review: Tsarina by Ellen Alpsten

  1. I strongly agree with you regarding two crucial elements. Historical fiction generally provides history, which this book was lacking. Nor am I a prude, however the graphic repetitive rape and sex scenes became reason enough to see this book as lacking.

    Too bad, I looked forward to it as well.

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