by Martha Hall Kelly
Genre: Historical Fiction
Length: 448 Pages
Release date: April 9, 2019
Publisher: Ballantine Books
The runaway bestseller Lilac Girls introduced the real-life heroine Caroline Ferriday. This sweeping new novel, set a generation earlier and also inspired by true events, features Caroline’s mother, Eliza, and follows three equally indomitable women from St. Petersburg to Paris under the shadow of World War I.
It is 1914 and the world has been on the brink of war so many times, many New Yorker’s treat the subject with only passing interest. Eliza Ferriday is thrilled to be traveling to St. Petersburg with Sofya Streshnayva, a cousin of the Romanov’s. The two met years ago one summer in Paris and became close confidantes. Now Eliza embarks on the trip of a lifetime, home with Sofya to see the splendors of Russia. But when Austria declares war on Serbia and Russia’s Imperial dynasty begins to fall, Eliza escapes back to America, while Sofya and her family flee to their country estate. In need of domestic help, they hire the local fortuneteller’s daughter, Varinka, unknowingly bringing intense danger into their household. On the other side of the Atlantic, Eliza is doing her part to help the White Russian families find safety as they escape the revolution. But when Sofya’s letters suddenly stop coming she fears the worst for her best friend.
From the turbulent streets of St. Petersburg to the avenues of Paris and the society of fallen Russian emigre’s who live there, the lives of Eliza, Sofya, and Varinka will intersect in profound ways, taking readers on a breathtaking ride through a momentous time in history.
My thanks to Ballantine Books and NetGalley for sending me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own and are not influenced by the publisher.
Lost Roses is a prequel to Lilac Girls, and both books feature Caroline Ferriday, although Lost Roses focuses more on Caroline’s mother, Eliza, than on Caroline herself. the two books can definitely be read in either order and I don’t think it would impact how much you would enjoy either one. Lost Roses follows the interconnected stories of three principal point of view characters:
Eliza – an American socialite who is passionate about charity work
Sofya – a wealthy Russian woman and dear friend of Eliza
Varinka – a teenage girl employed as a servant in Sofya’s home in Russia
Lost Roses feels a bit slow in the beginning. Your mileage may vary, but it took me longer than most books to become invested in this one. I read small bits and pieces of the first half while finding myself sidetracked by other books, then flew through the second half. I think part of the issue was the number of point of view characters and the degree of separation of each of their stories, despite each of the POV characters knowing at least one of the others. I think this format made it take a bit longer to get to know each of these women well enough to become invested in their stories. To a lesser extent, I had the same issue with Lilac Girls, which is set up the same way, but both books feel well worth that time investment by the time they are done.
One of the best things about this novel is the way Martha Hall Kelly brings interesting, morally grey characters to life. Varinka was particularly interesting to me; I don’t want to get into spoilers, but the hardships of her life certainly play a part in some horrible decisions she makes and her total lack of empathy for certain people. She is pitted against Sofya by events which are outside of either woman’s control. Sofya, conversely, seems totally blind to the strife in her home country until it begins to impact her personally. Most members of the Russian aristocracy definitely give off a bit of a Marie Antoinette vibe at times, far more concerned with the luxuries of their daily lives than the fact that the common people are starving.
It’s clear that Martha Hall Kelly did a lot of research to get the time period right. Depending on your taste, you may feel this adds a lot of texture to the story or it may feel overly detailed. As a big history enthusiast, a loved the detail and thought it helped the reader to get to know the characters better by giving a very full sense of their environment, particularly the anxieties brought on by the political chaos of the time.
All in all, despite the slow start, I definitely recommend Lost Roses. Fans of Lilac Girls will absolutely want to grab a copy of Martha Hall Kelly’s latest work.
Thank you for reading! Have you read any of Martha Hall Kelly’s work? Please share your thoughts in the comments!