After fleeing the murderous Bolsheviks, Her Serenity Princess Svetlana Dmitrievich Dalsky arrives in Paris with the sole responsibility of her mother and sister sitting on her shoulders. Survival quickly becomes the sole focus of her days. A chance encounter with Scottish nobleman turned doctor Wynn MacCallan finds her with a champion and suitor she does not want. But when further threats and tragedy impact both their lives, Wynn and Svetlana must learn to trust each other in order to move forward towards an unpredictable future.
Svetlana is a heroine it took me a while to warm to, due to her cool self-containment. She perfectly exemplifies the book’s title, elegant, serene and untouchable, but eventually it becomes clear that icy reserve hides a core of fear and terror which leave her unable to trust and drives her to desperate choices. Considering her privileged, entitled past leaves her with little experience or skill to deal with her new reality, she exhibits amazing strength and grace as she faces the life of an impoverished emigre still hunted and haunted by evil forces. Though I eventually understood her choices and reactions to Wynn, I didn’t always appreciate them. But I grew to respect her and loved the way her character develops and eventually grows into a woman of compassion, kindness and substance.
And then there’s Wynn. Who else but an incorrigible heart surgeon would be able to cut through the ice of Svetlana’s heart? I love how undeterred he is by her rejections, how he sees her lack of interest as a challenge. Wynn is such a unique character in that he cares nothing for the trappings of wealth and the title of Marquess he has inherited but instead is passionate about healing. Unlike Svetlana, he feels no need to protect his heart when he would rather protect her. But lest you think he’s too good to be true, he also gets the opportunity to confront his own flaws, including pride, and he doesn’t always handle it well proving he is just as human as the rest of us.
There are a host of interesting side characters in this story as well, some to love and some who drove me crazy (cough, cough, Svetlana’s mouther, cough). Though they aren’t as fleshed out as Wynn and Svetlana, they are intriguing in their own right and add to our main characters’ journeys. My only small complaint is that Svetlana’s sister Marina feels more like a plot device than a real person. I would have loved for her to have more “screen” time in the book.
J’nell Ciesielski is an author who has quietly grown in my esteem with each of her books I’ve read. I’m astounded by her talent. She has outdone herself with this story. Combining the realistic details of setting and culture with excellent character development, she has created a masterpiece of historical fiction. I couldn’t put this book down. Of course, I could be biased since I’ve had a lifelong fascination with Russian history as well as the city of Paris and she managed to immerse me in both. Plus, who doesn’t love a strong Scottish hero like Wynn? Regardless, this fan of historical fiction, believes Ciesielski has proven herself as a must read author in this genre.
Disclaimer: Although I was given an advance copy of this book by the publisher, all opinions are my own.