***I originally posted a review of this book on September 25, 2012. However, for some reason, that post went missing from my blog. I’ve written a new review here—the sentiments are the same as my original post.***
The Mirrored World Debra Dean
Published: August 28. 2012
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: TLC Book Tours
Recommended for readers looking for a little known historical subject
Born to a Russian family of lower nobility, Xenia, an eccentric dreamer who cares little for social conventions, falls in love with Andrei, a charismatic soldier and singer in the Empress's Imperial choir. Though husband and wife adore each other, their happiness is overshadowed by the absurd demands of life at the royal court and by Xenia's growing obsession with having a child—a desperate need that is at last fulfilled with the birth of her daughter. But then a tragic vision comes true, and a shattered Xenia descends into grief, undergoing a profound transformation that alters the course of her life. Turning away from family and friends, she begins giving all her money and possessions to the poor. Then, one day, she mysteriously vanishes.
Years later, dressed in the tatters of her husband's military uniform and answering only to his name, Xenia is discovered tending the paupers of St. Petersburg's slums. Revered as a soothsayer and a blessed healer to the downtrodden, she is feared by the royal court and its new Empress, Catherine, who perceives her deeds as a rebuke to their lavish excesses. In this evocative and elegantly written tale, Dean reimagines the intriguing life of Xenia of St. Petersburg, a patron saint of her city and one of Russia's most mysterious and beloved holy figures. This is an exploration of the blessings of loyal friendship, the limits of reason, and the true costs of loving deeply.
Thoughts on Content (5.0 / 5.0):
Even though I have a degree in European history, I know very little about Russian history (I tended to stay on the western side of the continent). So, the story of Xenia of St. Petersburg was completely new to me. Eccentrics have never had it easy, but the story of a noble eccentric in a society such as 17th Century St. Petersburg seems unreal (Xenia was a real character—she even has her own Wikipedia page). There were actually 2 stories in this novel—that of Xenia and that of her cousin, Dasha—who, in her own way, also lives an unconventional life.
Thoughts on Style (4.0 / 5.0):
Dean has a very readable style. I tend to read a lot of historical fiction and I know that such novels sometimes fall victim to affected styles. Dean is able to avoid those traps. She also is skilled at creating interesting characters by fitting them into, and contrasting them against, the society of the time. I also enjoyed her ability to recreate the world of St. Petersburg at the time. As I said, I am not overly familiar with that slice of history and Dean’s descriptions brought it to life for me.
My Thoughts (3.5 / 5.0 ):
While I enjoyed this book overall, I can’t say I was completely satisfied by it. I can’t believe I’m saying this about a Russian novel (or, in this case, a novel set in Russia), but I really felt that it should be longer. I felt that there were some gaps in the plot and places where descriptions could be “beefed up” a bit.
I also felt it a bit strange that this book about Xenia, is told through the eyes of Dasha—with Dasha’s own story standing between the reader and Xenia. While I enjoyed Dasha and her story, I felt that the construction of the novel suffered for it. I think some tweaking in this area could have greatly improved the experience for the reader.
I would recommend this book to those who enjoy historical fiction, despite the flaws that I outlined. As far as I know, this is the only novel about such an intriguing character.
This review is part of a blog tour by TLC Book Tours. I received a copy of the book to read and review. I received no other compensation and all opinions are mine, and mine alone.