The one in the snowy Russian plains

Michel Honaker, Terre Noire: Les exilés du Tsar (French, 2009)

I swear I’m not trying to rush all these books along just to finish the year. It’s just that… okay, I give up. I feel like I have an obligation to mention those books I’ve finished recently before turning the page towards 2016.

I was looking for an easy read, a YA saga but not a fantasy. I chose this one a bit at random at the library, just because of the title: Black Earth, the Czar’s exiles. It felt romantic and exotic, and indeed it was! Sometimes that’s all you need to use as a kind of… well, palate cleanser before tackling a more challenging book.

The year is 1887 in Russia, under the reign of czar Alexander III. Stepan is a talented young pianist and composer with a growing reputation. He’s the adopted soon of an old aristocrat Baroness Danilovna whose health and wealth are declining. Upon her death, the old Baroness is supposed to bequest him a land called Black Earth, but her birth son is jealous of him and plots a twisted revenge that will send Stepan to exile, or even to his death. The only allies he can count on are Baroness Danilova’s young daughter Natalia who is secretly in love with Stepan, and his faithful servant who will help him flee the country.

I liked that the story was told through letters and diaries. The pace was brisk and eventful. The only drawback was that I could guess most of the story very early on, so I didn’t quite find it thrilling. It’s probably for a middle-grade audience on the youngish side, although the intricacies of the Russian politics might escape them. It was pleasing enough, but not so much that I would try to read the second and third books of the series.


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