Monday, March 19, 2012

Blog Tour Review: Enchantments by Kathryn Harrison

From the Back Cover:

St. Petersburg, 1917. After Rasputin’s body is pulled from the icy waters of the Neva River, his eighteen-year-old daughter, Masha, is sent to live at the imperial palace with Tsar Nikolay and his family—including the headstrong Prince Alyosha. Desperately hoping that Masha has inherited Rasputin’s miraculous healing powers, Tsarina Alexandra asks her to tend to Aloysha, who suffers from hemophilia, a blood disease that keeps the boy confined to his sickbed, lest a simple scrape or bump prove fatal.

Two months after Masha arrives at the palace, the tsar is forced to abdicate, and Bolsheviks place the royal family under house arrest. As Russia descends into civil war, Masha and Alyosha grieve the loss of their former lives, finding solace in each other’s company. To escape the confinement of the palace, they tell stories—some embellished and some entirely imagined—about Nikolay and Alexandra’s courtship, Rasputin’s many exploits, and the wild and wonderful country on the brink of an irrevocable transformation. In the worlds of their imagination, the weak become strong, legend becomes fact, and a future that will never come to pass feels close at hand.

Mesmerizing, haunting, and told in Kathryn Harrison’s signature crystalline prose, Enchantments is a love story about two people who come together as everything around them is falling apart.

My Thoughts:

I was really looking forward to reading a novel of Rasputin's daughter, and I was even more pleased to discover that Alexei Nikolaevich, the doomed Romanov tsarevich, was such a central figure to the novel. This is a novel about the last days of the Romanovs, but in this story, the four princesses take a back seat to their younger brother. This is a book for Alexei, and I like that.

After her father is murdered, eighteen-year-old Masha Rasputin, along with her younger sister Varya, is taken into the Romanov household, and not long after, Tsar Nicholas is forced to abdicate and the Romanov household is placed under house arrest. Missing her father, unsure of her place, unsure of the fate of the family who has taken her in, she forms a friendship with Alyosha, as Alexei is called by his loved ones. He is a smart young man; stoic and realistic, and so wise for someone kept so sheltered. Because of his illness, his family lives in fear of him hurting himself, and Alyosha has to live mostly through his imagination. Masha entertains him by weaving fairy tales and discussing history and literature with him, by retelling anecdotes from her father's storied life and from Alyosha's parents' courtship, by imagining with him a life he will never have. But her stories aren't always happy ones; she and Alyosha are both able to look upon the shared religious fanaticism of their parents with open and honest eyes, and Alyosha is able to comment on his father's failings as a ruler with surprising clarity and compassion. Fascinated by the French Revolution and well-versed on the subject, he calmly draws frightening comparisons and fateful predictions for his family.

Masha's stories for the tsarevich are interspersed with her own recollections of her father's humble beginnings and rise to fame, and the circumstances leading up to his death, and with Masha's ordeal after she is released from the Romanovs' prison as she tries to put some sort of a life together. Against the odds, she goes on to fulfill some of her lifelong dreams while keeping the Romanovs alive in her heart. It's all quite interesting, but her narrative jumps back and forth in time so much, and somewhat randomly, so that the story feels loose and disjointed, and I think it also contributed to my feeling of not really getting to know Masha.

While there are some moments of joyful imagination and fantasy, and, despite his fatalism, a burning in Alexei to experience all he can of life before the end, overall the story is one of sadness and strife and it left me with a heavy heart. Though the meat of the novel--Masha and her relationship with the tsarevich--is purely fictional, the historical backdrop is very real, and very intense. The setting of St. Petersburg comes to life, and I particularly enjoyed the depictions of the city and her people. The writing is lovely and Masha makes some beautifully-phrased observations, but it's also wordy and heavy on the introspection and commentary, and I found myself skimming a bit to get to the end. While I did not find the physical relationship that developed between Masha and Alexei to be at all unbelievable--in fact, I thought it was quite natural given the circumstances--I was a bit put off by the entries at the end from a purely fictional journal of Alyosha's that survived his death and made its way to Masha, as its contents seem to be designed to titillate more than anything else. But I always enjoy reading about Russia in fiction, and this is a very different approach to the Romanovs, and I liked that Harrison was able to inject some romance and escapism into such a tragedy.

My Rating:  3.5 Stars out of 5

Enter to win your own copy of Enchantments!

Simply leave a comment with your email address. This giveaway is open to residents of the U.S. and Canada, and ends at 11:59pm on Monday, April 2, 2012. Winner will be selected at random. Thanks, and good luck!

Enchantments is on a blog tour.
Learn more about Kathryn Harrison and her work;

This giveaway is closed and the winner has been selected!
Stay tuned for more great giveaways!


  1. I've enjoyed other novels set in the time of the Romanovs. This book sounds interesting. Thanks for the giveaway.

  2. I have wanted to read this since first hearing about it. Thanks for the chance to win it!

  3. I used to be fascinated with Rasputin and read quite a bit about him. This sounds interesting - too bad it wasn't edited a little tighter.

  4. This novel set during a fascinating era interests me greatly. Thanks for this giveaway. elliotbencan(at)hotmail(dot)com

  5. Thanks for this great review about this compelling time in history. saubleb(at)gmail(dot)com

  6. Sounds like a good book, thanks for the giveaway!

  7. I love historical fiction and this book sounds just wonderful! Thanks for the giveaway!

  8. Thanks for the giveaway!

  9. I have heard a few interesting reviews about this one recently. I too love reading Russian Hist-Fic. Please enter me for this one. Thank you!


  10. Enchantments sounds wonderful! I've been trying to find a good historical fiction book for a while. This is definitely going on my TBR and is probably getting ordered for my library. Thanks for sharing your review and for the giveaway. :-D

    pherlaithiel (at) gmail (dot) com

  11. Looks like a great historical fiction book. I've read historical fiction based on many different European countries, but nothing about Russia.

    the imagine tree at aol dot com

  12. I am so fascinated by the whole Romanov story so I would love to read this!


  13. The place and time period appeals to me in this story. I have read about war-torn Russia but the premise in this story is new and interesting.

  14. ^^ Sorry, forgot to add my email!

  15. This sounds so good!

  16. I'm glad that there were some things you enjoyed about this one even if it didn't turn out to be a favorite for you.

    Thanks for being a part of the tour!

  17. I would love to read this book—thanks for the opportunity to win a copy!

  18. Thanks for the chance to win!
    natasha_donohoo_8 at hotmail dot com

  19. This sounds like a wonderful book! I can't wait to read it! Thank you for the review and giveaway.


  20. A Russian setting is different. Love to read this.

    nanze55 at hotmail dot com

  21. Sounds like a fascinating read!

  22. Why not? Send this one to Portugal!


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