WINTER is coming – and so, too, for the average citizen of Russia are the desperate privations that accompany full-blown war.
As German troops move into the empire’s westernmost provinces, however, life for the elite of Petrograd society remains virtually unchanged.
Petrograd – as St Petersburg has been officially retitled in a move to make the grand city appear more patriotically Russian – is the seat of power of Tsar Nikolai II and his family, an all-powerful royal dynasty that not only rules the country but also celebrates arts such as dance. To be a principal of the Romanovs’ Imperial Russian Ballet is the ultimate aim of fledgling danseurs such as Luka Zhirkov, whose father barely manages to support himself while working in a factory and whose brother is now fighting bitterly to keep the would-be invaders at bay.
As the closing months of 1914 unfold, Luka’s standing soars, buoyed at least in part by his association with prima ballerina Mathilde Kschessinska, who almost inexplicably draws the young corps member ever deeper into her acquaintanceship.
For the tempestuous Valentina Yershova, emerging quickly as a celebrity in her own right, a personal battle to rival that waged by Russia’s starving soldiers brews. Valentina has been traded by her original “protector” – one of the rich and influential older men who traditionally keep a young dancer as a mistress – and is now at the mercy of Maxim Sergeivich, a volatile and at-times cruel and calculating newspaper columnist who openly craves the approval of Tsarina Alexandra and her closest advisor (and reputed lover), “mad monk” Grigori Rasputin.
In this debut novel Sydney author and ballet teacher Kerri Turner weaves historic figures and events into an engrossing, unpredictable, heartrending story that fleshes out the circumstances in which Petrograd and its dancers find themselves as World War I closes in.