October 2012, Chicken House
278 pages, Paperback
Themes: mysteries of Russia, royalty, prisoners of all types, strange customs, friendship, a dysfunctional lady, sparkly diamonds, fine art, wolves, threat of fear, uncertainty, finding who you are, Russian clothes and weather, moderate amount of mild peril & occasional major peril, tissues needed for the end
Summary from Chicken House
Sophie and her friends, Marianne and Delphine, are surprised to win places on a school trip to Russia. But the trip does not go as expected.
Abandoned on an express train heading out of St Petersburg, the girls are thrown out at a disused station, where they are rescued and taken to the beautiful but faded Volkonsky Winter Palace, as guests of the exotic Princess Anna Feodorovna Volkonskaya.
Guarded by white wolves, the princess is an enigmatic figure, desperately searching for a rope of lost diamonds that could overturn the Volkonsky bad fortune. At first the girls are mesmerised by her stories but when she takes a special interest in Sophie, they begin to be afraid.
The way I received this book now makes sense. I opened it to find it covered in lilac tissue paper with jewels inside (alas neither real or of chocolate). That mirrors the story. There is a real beauty in my head thinking of the Russian clothes and palace. Yes there is danger for Sophie out in the snow (wolves, pneumonia, frostbite) but there are layers of hidden danger inside the palace which she doesn't see until its too late.
As a reader the dangers sang out to me, making me more and more afraid for Sophie. Having her friends with her was a mixed blessing at times. I loved how obsessed with being correct and looking good Delphine was, and how even Sophie manages to use the mounds of info Marianne has in her brain.
The ending made me cry (no surprise there) because Sophie's choice is perfect for her. It felt right for me. I love how I'm left imagining the next stage of her life in this 10/10 read.
For a tale of another princess in a tricky situation try Castle of Shadows by Ellen Renner