Tsarina is a historical novel that tells the story of Catherine I of Russia. The arc of her life is amazing. She was born a serf and became the Tsarina of Russia, ruling in her own name for two years following the death of her husband, Peter the Great.

Ellen Alpsten takes the outline of her life and fills it with the kind of details that bring a character to life. She also adds a touch of erotica that probably explains a lot of Catherine’s rise from poverty to power. During her many years as Peter’s favorite, then as his wife, she had to not only keep his love and loyalty,  she had to maneuver like a Machiavelli to keep others from taking her down. She also seems to have tempered Peter’s worst excesses as best she could.

I like Tsarina well enough. Catherine I’s life story is a fascinating one and important. She did not just serve as the Tsarina for a few years, she also was the mother of one of Russia’s better rulers, Elizabeth I. However, this story was weakened by a few of the author’s choices towards the end of the book. She fleshed out gossip for a love affair that the consensus of historians did not happen. Catherine seized power after Peter’s death, but the mechanisms of that were absent. No time was spent on her two years as tsarina. This left me feeling so disappointed because she went through so much, was in such jeopardy, it would have been nice to see what she did with power when she had it.

I received a copy of Tsarina from the publisher through Shelf Awareness. It will be released on November 10th.