Hello all! Brr it’s cold outside, so I decided it was time to cosy on up to one of my favourite historical reads. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve reread this book (most recently at the end of last year) and yet I still get the urge to revisit it again and again! That’s why I found it super easy to come up with this list of reasons to pick this beautiful story up:
The setting is gorgeous. Opening in a pre-Revolution Russia and moving across the sea to the English countryside, the book maintains a mythic quality and a superbly atmospheric vision throughout. Stunningly described from the first sentence to the last, I could happily recommend this for that reason alone.
Anna, the main character, is a true heroine. Self-sacrificing and, despite the title, unable to hide her noble nature, what makes her incredible is not her background, but what she does in the face of hardship. Her role in the story teaches many valuable lessons- to never give up hope, to accept responsibility and, above all, to be kind.
While we’re on the topic, this book boasts many other amazing female characters, all reflected in a historically accurate way. One of my favourites being Minna- the stepmother who lays to rest “all the wicked stepmothers since time began”
At the same time, this book manages to have some proper villains. Recently, a friend pointed out to me that a sitcom I-don’t-want-to-spoil-by-naming gave away the villain by having them kick a dog into the sun (ok big spoiler there)- well this has a dog-kicking villain. In fact, this villain is pretty much reprehensible in every way- we learn from their introduction that they are a literal eugenicist. I’m a massive fan of baddies actually being bad and this definitely achieves that. What’s also great is that the dastardly ways of said character are revealed slowly to everyone else in the story (giving the book real tension and a plot).
This is just one of the ways that Eva Ibbotson is frankly a genius writer. As well as creating an exciting cast of characters, she also presents brilliant levels of contrast, to really tug at those heartstrings. One of the things Ibbotson does especially well is building up a character’s hopes at the beginning of a scene or chapter, only to bring them crashing down. And, as if in a perfect mirror image, the happiest moments start so sadly, only to flip everything you were feeling on its head.
Also, the romance is gorgeous. I personally hold the view that one does not know a real love story until they have tried Eva Ibbotson. And this just so happens to be one of her best romances.
I feel like I could go on forever extolling this book’s virtues, but sometimes bananas speak louder than words:
If you haven’t checked it out, go read it! And if you have, feel free to gush with me in the comments! 😉