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Publisher: Dreamspinner Press, (March 27, 2014)
Blurb: To purge Benjamin of his desire to join the Army, his father, a senior British diplomat, entrusts him with a mission to Tsar Nicholas II's headquarters. On the way to Russia, Benjamin encounters Sergei Breselov, an officer in the Imperial Army, lying wounded in a field hospital. He persuades the authorities to let him escort Sergei to Petrograd, but their trip is halted when their train is attacked by deserting soldiers. Sergei and Benjamin must band together to survive and make their own way to the capitol. The handsome Sergei Breselov stirs something in Benjamin, and to his surprise, his feelings are returned. Despite the forbidden nature of their association, their bond tightens as Sergei heals, and they are again thrust into the thick of war as the revolution rages around them, threatening to topple the Russian court forever.
Told individually and together, the stories of these two very different men keep the reader constantly on edge and fascinated. Sergei is from a simple farming family but forced to try to make his way in a changing society that was on the brink of ruin, the Russian economy. Benjamin, his “Angel”, is from comfort and wealth in a diplomatic family from England. In spite of their disparities, the two men find each other on a hospital train on its way to Petrograd, and, with no consideration of social standing or rank, fall in love. There road seems continuously blocked by the circumstances of their times, the Great War, the dissolution of the imperial government in Russia and the Bolshevik Revolution. All I can say is thanks be it’s a novel or these two men would never have found each other again, but.. there is a psychic connection , of Sergei reaching for Benjamin and Benjamin reaching for Sergei that [SPOILER] explains the inevitability of their reunion.
Along the way the two men have liaisons that in no way detract from their focus on the other. This was refreshingly real to me, the reviewer, as having them tragically alone would have not felt right. Benjamin finds colleagues, both well and ill intentioned, seek his company, but he is ready with his arms wide when Sergei steps into them after that fateful wrong turn. Sergei has a long term affair with a Bolshevik rabblerouser which leads him into danger but ultimately provides him with the shelf where he can wait until time to find Benjamin again.
Along the way one encounters the people of history, in particular Nicholas II, that hapless czar almost too poetically doomed to be believed, though every bit of his description is historically accurate. The massacre of the workers in 1905, the slow dissolution of society as soldiers in Russia walk off the field after assassinating their officers, all is familiar from numerous account the historically literate has at hand.
Their backgrounds so different the two men are spiritual twins, a condition necessary for them to connect. The stories of life first on the battlefield in Russia and later in the deteriorating Petrograd and later on the killing fields of France keep one forever guessing what will happen to our boys next.
There were a couple times when the back and forth storytelling styl seemed to get mixed up, particularly when in Petrograd Benjamin is looking for Sergei and just misses him that left me bemused and confused. Why have Benjamin take the actions that were just described from Sergei’s point of view? This is a brief sequence that does not take away from the story however.
All in all a fascinating storytelling style from an author who appears to know his history and how to weave it effortlessly for the reader. Well done.