Inspired by real characters, this transporting historical fiction debut spins the fascinating story of two princesses in the Romanov court who practiced black magic, befriended the Tsarina, and invited Rasputin into their lives—forever changing the course of Russian history.
As daughters of the impoverished King of Montenegro, Militza and Stana must fulfill their duty to their father and leave their beloved home for St. Petersburg to be married into senior positions in the Romanov court. For their new alliances to the Russian nobility will help secure the future of the sisters’ native country. Immediately, Militza and Stana feel like outcasts as the aristocracy shuns them for their provincial ways and for dabbling in the occult. Undeterred, the sisters become resolved to make their mark by falling in with the lonely, depressed Tsarina Alexandra, who—as an Anglo-German—is also an outsider and is not fully accepted by members of the court. After numerous failed attempts to precipitate the birth of a son and heir, the Tsarina is desperate and decides to place her faith in the sisters’ expertise with black magic.
Promising the Tsarina that they will be able to secure an heir for the Russian dynasty, Militza and Stana hold séances and experiment with rituals and spells. Gurus, clairvoyants, holy fools, and charlatans all try their luck. The closer they become to the Tsarina and the royal family, the more their status—and power—is elevated. But when the sisters invoke a spiritual shaman, who goes by the name of Rasputin, the die is cast. For they have not only irrevocably sealed their own fates—but also that of Russia itself.
Brimming with black magic, sex and intrigue, The Witches of St. Petersburg is an exquisite historical fiction debut novel filled with lush historical details from the Romanov era.
Edwards-Jones's rich historical debut explores the lives of the Montenegrin princesses Militza Nikolayevna and Anastasia, who married Russian royals and introduced Siberian mystic Grigory Rasputin to the Tsarina Alexandra. After their arranged marriages in 1889, the young sisters settle into their lives, though doing so is difficult. They're derided for their provincial upbringing and told they smell of goat. However, their reputation for otherworldly talents captures the tsarina's attention, and after the death of the tsar's beloved brother, George, Alexandra begs the sisters to help her conceive a son. After an endless parade of professed holy men and charlatans, a son, Alexei, is born, but his blood disorder puts more pressure on the sisters. Enter the odiferous, duplicitous Rasputin, who claims he can help Alexei. A palpable darkness settles over the narrative as the author plunges into the unsavory aspects of mysticism and the occult while revealing how far the sisters are willing to go to retain power. The sisters do inspire sympathy: they have very little agency, and the occult offers them glamour and influence beyond their wildest dreams. Edwards-Jones also paints a sympathetic picture of the tsarina, herself an outsider. Readers fascinated with the Romanovs and this tumultuous period in Russian history will be enthralled by this deliciously dark and memorable novel.
Customer ReviewsSee All
High hopes left disappointed
I am a sucker for royal history and the supernatural and I’ve always loved the story of the Romanov’s and this book is painful to get through. I am upset that I spent money on it and I really wish the book was written in first person and there were more details of the main characters lives. Not jumping ahead three years at a time. This book left much wanted and left me with tons of questions. I would suggest reading a Philippa Gregory novel if you are interested in royal history and a little witchcraft.
Absolutely awful. If I could give this book a negative star review I certainly would. The plot..what plot? There is none. The characters are so flat and unlike able. There are descriptions that make absolutely no sense to the story. And are disgusting if anything. It did a HUGE DISSERVICE to the lives of these people, who WERE ACTUAL PEOPLE. If you’re looking for a real historical book, skip this one. The witch aspect is absolutely atrocious, and a shame to discredit such a fascinating subject. Clearly just sprinkled into this story because witches are “trendy”. This book reads like a diary then jumps into the thoughts of random characters when need be. I wish I could forget this book. It reads like a first draft. Where was the editor? Beta readers? I spent more time researching Russia while reading this book than the author did writing it.
As a reader I absolutely do not recommend, and as a writer I suggest another draft of editing or two.