Tuesday, 4 December 2018

12 Days of Clink Street Blog Tour: Review + Guest Blog Post for Olga's Egg by Sophie Law (Thriller, 9/10E)


If only this were a real Faberge egg
October 2018, Clink Street Publishing, 314 pages, Ebook, Review copy

When Fabergé specialist Assia Wynfield learns of the discovery of a long-lost Fabergé egg made for the Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaevna, daughter of the last Tsar of Russia,

she appears to be the only person with misgivings. On travelling to St. Petersburg to see the egg, Assia moves among Russia’s new rich but finds herself pulled back into a family past she would rather forget.

With news that a friend is missing, Assia starts to dig deeper. But does she really want the answers to the questions she is asking?

Nayu's thoughts
 Below is a repost of my review that I wrote a few weeks ago. I can't stress how much I love the beauty of Faberge eggs, which is why I picked this book to highlight for the fun tour I was invited to join. I hope you enjoy it! I have changed the suggested read to include some other Clink Street titles that I've read and enjoyed. Plus Sophie has kindly done a guest post, so you can learn even more about the book! (Which you need to read, obviously. It's a good one!) The slightly weird formatting was my laptop being stupid, so apologies for that.

I all but squealed with delight when I read the synopsis for Sophie's novel. Ever since I can remember (which with a very faulty memory may have been when I was in my early teens) I've loved Faberge eggs. 
Love the dusky pink body of the egg with the delicate flowers.
There's something about these stunning designs made by Faberge for the last Emperor and Empress of Russia that are eye catching. Honestly speaking they could be made of poor materials and I'd still love them: I love how enamel looks with gold and various gems including diamonds. The intricacy of some of the pieces is astounding - the eggs all had surprises, some could be found using keys, some even moved. 

Bright red and not pictured bright blue enamel is the most striking of the Faberge eggs in terms of colour. I like the simplicity of the hidden flower (can't remember if there's something inside the petals).
 When I was younger I believed that one guy (Faberge) made the eggs (and other creations, eggs weren't the sole artwork). Now I know that Faberge had staff to help with his work, however he was still in charge and I'm assuming did a lot of the work. Imagine getting one of these as a present! 

In addition to loving Faberge eggs, as a girl I loved the story of the Romonovs, the last Emperor and Empress. I liked to image that one of the princesses, Anastasia, did indeed survive the mass murder of her family which brought an end to their reign. Even Disney created a story where that was true, although in the end Anastasia chooses to lead a simpler life. 
Cover for the Disney film
 This book, as you can tell from the title, is all about Olga. Olga was one of Anastasia's older sisters, also the namesake of the protagonist's mother. Assia, named after Anastasia, is someone who I quickly wanted to cheer up. She feels to blame for the accident that killed her mother, even though it wasn't her fault. Her twin sister, Tanya, is hardly Assia's friend for most of the book, but when it counts the most she is there to help her sister. 
 
It was so frustrating when the point of view changed because all I wanted to focus on was Assia. However, I didn't skip the non-Assia sections (a bad habit of mine if the characters are male) because I knew they were important to the story. I didn't know how important until big plot twists made those switches in perspective necessary to understand the full story. There are fictional snippets about Princess Olga (although she was called a Grand Duchess more than Princess) which I lapped up, imaging the doomed teen royal writing the notes while under house arrest (well, at one point the family weren't allowed out at all)

My degree was in Ancient History, so I tend to get excited over artifacts, and love characters that deal with the past like Assia does through the Faberge collection. Every meeting she went to, public or private, I felt like I was getting an insight Assia's professional life which seems so cool. The way she inspects the eggs in the book felt like the same passion that I have when seeing something that I find extra cute, pouring over it and being captivated by the object so much she forgets the world around her. Show me a pot fragment and I'm very happy!

Admittedly I had expected there to be more thriller aspects from the synopsis: there was a slight hint at menace, and Assia did have a threat made, but it never really went any further than that, which is why the book didn't quite get the highest grade. I love a good thriller, but equally I loved Assia's tale. She learnt new things about her mother, she finds a way to break through her twin's hard exterior (who faked being sisterly when out in public). Assia meets two women, one who treated her harshly then was nice and proved to be exactly what Assia needed at that moment in time to help her grief, and other was mostly nice with a harsh side that wasn't Assia's fault. Both these women stood out to me, each entwined in Assia's life through the link of Assia's mother Olga and that of the Grand Duchess Olga. 

Forgery in the art world is nothing new. I don't follow art that closely, but I'm aware forgeries can be really expensive. I liked the way forgery is addressed in this book, and would have liked to have seen the repercussions of the story's end played out a bit more. But what's most important is not the Faberge egg, but Assia's transition from refusing to forgive herself for her mother's death to returning to her Roman Catholic faith (which I find fascinating, even though I'm Muslim rather than Catholic) after meeting one of the two women I like, and making peace with herself. Her mother Olga had been determined to raise her twin girls as Russian, even though they were half-Russian because of their English father. 

I'm a firm believer that religion is important to life, no matter what the belief system is. I was saddened when Assia discovered a key church was closed: where I live there's an Anglican church, a Methodist church, and there used to be a Roman Catholic church which had an imposing building. I never went inside (when I was little I was Church of England Christian), but it felt so sad when it ceased functioning as a church because Roman Catholic churches have a tendency to be elaborate in decoration. Plus it meant that any Roman Catholics had to travel elsewhere, which in a way is what an acquaintance of the Grand Duchess Olga had to do when politics got troublesome. Even Assia had to travel to flee danger, something the royal Olga couldn't do. The act of some objects being hidden in others that were in plain sight but hid their secret for many years is a plot element I enjoy.

This is definitely a story for my reread shelf, because it stokes my imagined view of the last Russian royals and what life is for a curator of historical artifact.


 

Suggested read
While I haven't yet reviewed many books from Clink Street, here are the ones which I have read and want to highlight for you: Got a fun thriller which I loved: Taking Care of Business by J D De Roeck (Thriller, 10/10E) 


And for younger readers (+ older ones like me who love cute things) there's I'm a Dragon, You see by David Kirkman (Children's, Picturebook, 10E/10E)


Sophie Law on Why are Fabergé eggs are seen as ‘the greatest treasures of them all’? Why do you think these objects remain so iconic all around the world, and act as such a potent national symbol of Russia?
For context here is a family portrait of the Romanovs. I saw some colour ones, but I think they all may be photo-shopped, so I didn't use one, although somehow colour makes them even more real to me than black and white. Regardless of if they were to blame for what happened, there's no excusing their horrific murder which I feel quite strongly about.

 Eggs have primordial appeal – the smoothness of the shell, the pleasing shape and the mystery of what lies within. Fabergé harnessed this in his series of Imperial Easter eggs – employing incredible ingenuity in interpreting the shape, size and surprise of each egg. Over a period of thirty years, this adherence to form and display of wondrous variety produced an array of treasures, the like of which the world had never seen. Who can forget the miniature working train of gold, diamonds and rubies which is the surprise for the Trans-Siberian Railway Egg of 1900, or the songbird which emerges from the top of the 1911 Bay Tree Egg to sing and delight the beholder? The eggs celebrated every aspect of pre-Revolutionary Russian history and Imperial life, from the Catherine the Great Egg to the Alexander Palace Egg, but they also memorialised the love and passions of the last Romanovs.

New scholarship in the field of Fabergé eggs ensures that their appeal remains very much alive. Only a few years ago, Caroline de Guitaut, Curator of the Royal Collection, discovered in the Queen’s Collection the missing miniature elephant automaton surprise for the 1892 Diamond Trellis Egg belonging to the McFerrin Collection. This snow-balling of international scholarship had also resulted in the momentous discovery of the 1887 Third Imperial Egg by a scrap metal merchant in America. There are still seven missing Fabergé Imperial Easter eggs and so the hunt is on for all of us.

Researching the seven missing eggs, I came across the work of the brilliant Fabergé specialists-cum-detectives Anna and Vincent Palmade. The Palmades had examined an enlarged photograph of a vitrine with Fabergé objects belonging to Maria Feodorovna from the 1902 St Petersburg von Dervis Exhibition and identified features of one of the missing eggs, hidden behind the Caucasus egg. They also detected reflections of this egg in the glass of the vitrine and matched what they saw to the description of the long-missing ‘Cherub with Chariot egg’ in the account books of the Imperial Cabinet. Their drawing of what this egg looks like represents one of the leaps of scholarship which bring us closer to finding the missing eggs. Making drawings, finding photographs and old catalogue entries from auctions is all part of the breadcrumb trail which inspired the plot of Olga’s Egg and which will – we hope – bring about the discovery of the other long-lost eggs.


Very recently, I went to the Science Museum to see The Last Tsar: Blood and Revolution. It is a brilliantly realised exhibition which displays items belonging to the last Romanovs presented against a backdrop of the increasingly unstable political situation as Russia entered the First World. The last two Fabergé eggs given to Alexandra by Nicholas are on show and it is arresting to see how the conception and creation of these two eggs has been tailored to the politics of the day. The design of the Fabergé Steel Military Easter egg of 1916 and the Red Cross egg of 1915 emphasises the inextricable link between art and politics. These unusual eggs were created to solemnize events which had been forged by the politics of the day – the Steel Military egg to memorialise the war efforts of the Tsar and the Tsarevich at the Front, and the Red Cross egg to pay tribute to the services rendered by the elder Grand Duchesses in their invaluable nursing work. To match the grave mood of the nation in a time of war, Fabergé had altered the tone of these Easter gifts.

The dissolution of the Russian Empire and the establishment of Soviet Russia turned the Fabergé eggs into bargaining chips as the Soviets offloaded a number of them through its Antikvariat in exchange for hard currency, while American and European collectors of the day acquired them because they were beautiful status symbols. By the 1980s, media magnate Malcolm Forbes had re-cast his collecting of Fabergé eggs into a political statement: it became the Space Race of the art world as he sought to gather more Imperial Fabergé eggs than the Kremlin. Forbes v. the Kremlin was a version of the Cold War fought in galleries and auction rooms.

While the eggs were channelled out of Russia by Stalin in the 20th century, their repatriation is now welcomed by the Kremlin. Victor Vekselberg famously bought the Forbes collection of Fabergé eggs to house in his museum in St Peterbsurg, and in 2015, Putin gifted the Rothschild Fabergé egg to the Hermitage.

Like trees, the Fabergé eggs gather concentric rings of provenance which tell a story of history and politics far beyond what their creator could have imagined.

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