In memory of the Russian Revolution of 1917, Theresa Breslin has written a wonderful historical novel, filled with fear and violence, starvation and romance.
The title might be The Rasputin Dagger, and Rasputin and the Tsar family do feature in the book, but this is mainly a story about normal people – brave, normal people – during a time of great upheaval and danger.
16-year-old Nina has recently been orphaned and must leave her home to go to St Petersburg to seek a new life. There she meets medical student Stefan, as well as the Royal Romanov family and the charismatic Rasputin, who seems to be running the show.
There is a war on with Germany, and there is serious unrest at home. Lenin wishes to return to Russia and the soldiers want to survive so they can return home too. The Tsar is weak, and the people hate Rasputin.
By some strange coincidence, Nina owns a jewel-encrusted dagger, which is the twin of one belonging to Rasputin. One of the daggers is said to carry a curse.
The readers feel the cold, and we can imagine ourselves in the early morning queue for bread. The poor need medical help they can’t afford, and the soldiers who return are in a bad shape and require more than the doctors can give them.
This is a lovely, historical, romantic adventure, with nice (yes, nice) people doing the best they can under appalling circumstances. And even though you know that both Rasputin and the Royal family will soon be dead, and Lenin will take power (and you know how that worked out, too), you still wonder how it all will end.