Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book courtesy of Netgalley and Thomas Nelson Fiction. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
1917, Petrograd. Fleeing the murderous flames of the Russian Revolution, Princess Svetlana Dalsky hopes to find safety in Paris with her mother and sister. But the city is buckling under the weight of the Great War, and the Bolsheviks will not rest until they have erased every Russian aristocrat from memory. Svetlana and her family are forced into hiding in Paris’s underbelly, with little to their name but the jewels they sewed into their corsets before their terrifying escape.
Born the second son of a Scottish duke, the only title Wynn MacCallan cares for is that of surgeon. Putting his talents with a scalpel to good use in the hospitals in Paris, Wynn pushes the boundaries of medical science to give his patients the best care possible. After treating Svetlana for a minor injury, he is pulled into a world of decaying imperial glitter. Intrigued by this mysterious, cold, and beautiful woman, Wynn follows Svetlana to an underground Russian club where drink, dance, and questionable dealings collide on bubbles of vodka.
Out of money and options, Svetlana agrees to a marriage of convenience with the handsome and brilliant Wynn, who will protect her and pay off her family’s debts. It’s the right thing for a good man to do, but Wynn cannot help hoping the marriage will turn into one of true affection. When Wynn’s life takes an unexpected turn, so does Svetlana’s—and soon Paris becomes as dangerous as Petrograd. And as the Bolsheviks chase them to Scotland, Wynn and Svetlana begin to wonder if they will ever be able to outrun the love they are beginning to feel for one another (Netgalley, 2021).
I found “The Ice Swan” by J’Nell Ciesielski a highly enjoyable read. it reminded me a bit of Kate Furnivall’s “The Jewel of St. Petersburg” with it’s love story set with the Russian Revolution as it’s backdrop.
In “The Ice Swan” I felt that the author did a fabulous job capturing the essence of what it means to be Russian when she created her main character, Svetlana. She is a lover of beauty, not quick to trust and refuses to give up no matter how desperate her circumstances become. I also admired the character of Svetlana, because unlike so many of her fellow white Russian emigres she is able to “roll with the punches” so to speak and adapt to her circumstances. Her whole world is turned upside down, but she is eventually able to use this as an opportunity to help others instead of wallowing in despair over all that she had lost.
Svetlana’s love interest, Wynn, is in many ways her opposite being more adventurous and optimistic. Though he has seen a fair amount of death as a surgeon, Wynn continues to strive to help others and look towards the future. This desire to help others is a trait that he shares with Svetlana. Like her, he is far from a typical aristocrat of the time. I felt like Wynn and Svetlana in some ways represented the many Russian nobles who did strive to make life better for their people and who were driven away by the Bolsheviks, who did not discriminate between the aristocrats who leeched off their peasants and those who truly cared about the people who worked for them.
My favorite part of the story was discovering how Wynn breaks through Svetlana’s defenses allowing true love to blossom between the two. Their courtship is far from the sort one would expect during that time period, but that only served to make for a more interesting read. And of course as with any good romance there are plenty of obstacles to overcome before the two could enjoy their happily ever after.
Aside from the romance aspect of the story, I enjoyed learning about what life must have been life for many White emigres to Paris. It’s incredibly sad to think about how so many saw their way of life collapse and lost their homeland and many loved ones. The character of Svetlana lands on her feet, but I have a feeling that she was the exception rather than the rule. And living under the constant threat of being caught by the Bolsheviks sounds terrifying as well.
I highly recommend this book to fans of historical fiction and/or historical romance. This was a 4 out of 5 star read for me.
Quotes I Found Significant:
Holding on to mistake is pride. Pride enemy of love”
Was this the anxiety Svetlana lived each day? Never knowing one hour to the next if she was in danger. Always one eye hunting ahead while the other searched behind for a threat.”
The corners of her mouth flitted up as she took the flower. It wasn’t quite the smile he’d hoped for, but it wasn’t a frown. He would take it as a victory.