The Rasputin Dagger by Theresa Breslin
Published: 10 August 2017 by Random House Children’s
Genre: Historical, Young Adult
Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
Synopsis from Goodreads: Russia, 1916. Nina Ivanovna’s world is in turmoil. Her only hope is to travel to St Petersburg, to escape the past and find a future. Stefan Kolodin is a medical student – young and idealistic, he wants change for Russia and its people. Amidst the chaos of a city in revolt, their lives collide. And a stormy relationship develops . . . full of passion and politics. But soon Nina is drawn in to the glamorous, lavish lives of the Russian royal family – where she begins to fall under the spell of their mysterious monk, Grigory Rasputin. The ruby-studded dagger he carries – beautiful and deadly – could save her and Stefan from a cursed life . . . or condemn them to it.
Review: The Rasputin Dagger was my first historical YA in a while, and I was really craving a good one. Luckily it delivered! Theresa Breslin, a Carnegie Medal winner, is a heavyweight in YA historical fiction – her war romance novel Remembrance has remained unforgettable to this day. So I was definitely looking forward to seeing how she handled a slightly different, but nonetheless exciting, period of history.
A story is the most powerful weapon in the wide, wide world.
As a fully confessed history nerd (and history major!) when I pick up a historical novel, I’m after a faithful use of the setting and Breslin always seems to deliver on this front. I feel like often in YA a historical setting can be a little secondary to the plot – so you’ll have this brilliant setting but you never really scratch the surface beyond the usual mentions around dress, behaviours, location etc. In The Rasputin Dagger, however, you really get a sense of St. Petersburg and the lives of the people in the city. I found it totally immersive and got caught up in the daily hardships faced by the average Russian because of the war effort and the relatively untouched lives of the Imperial family.
The whole of Russia, and in particular our city, is like a huge barrel of gunpowder surrounded by desperate souls brandishing lighted tapers.
I adored the way politics was woven in, something which is often neglected or glossed over in YA books, seemingly because teens aren’t given enough credit for being interested/able to digest slightly ‘heavier’ topics (when hello Teen Vogue anyone?) In The Resputin Dagger, you get a real sense of the divisions in society, and the different ideologies at play – I thought it was clever how each of the characters seemed to represent a different point on the political spectrum but still be able to call each other friends and family. The characters were generally just great – Nina, our female protagonist, and Galena the housekeeper were fabulous female characters, resourceful and strong, and not at all content to sit back and watch their lives as they know it pretty much change before their eyes. I also really liked how understated and slow burn the romance was – there was absolutely no instalove here.
No on is taking me anywhere. I go where I please. I too am a bread-queue woman, and today I will join with my fellow women.
Breslin was also brilliant at portraying historical figures like Rasputin and the Imperial family – they were neither black nor white. Oftentimes with historical novels it seems there’s a tendency to sensationalise famous people in history. Instead, Breslin doesn’t get caught up in making characters ‘bad’ or ‘good’ but rather show them as they might have been, letting the reader make up their own mind. The same goes for the plot. I liked that The Rasputin Dagger stayed true to history and didn’t overly rely on the famous figures to drive the plot. Instead, you really get to know the main fictional characters and, because of their well-developed back stories, learn why they think and are the way they are.
A person with a book in their hands wields more power than the one who holds a gun.
One thing I have to say is that the blurb doesn’t seem all that faithful to the book itself in my opinion. The romance and supernatural/fantasy element is played up more in the blurb and made to seem like the focal points of this book. Instead, I found The Rasputin Dagger to be way more subtle and intricate, and it seems a shame that this isn’t reflected in the blurb. I loved how the supernatural curse element is woven throughout the book, more subtle and used more as a plot device for Nina to learn her history. Overall, I really enjoyed The Rasputin Dagger and think if you’re a historical YA fan or at all interested in this part of Russia history, this book will not disappoint!
What are your favourite historical YA books? If you have any recs, send them my way please! 🙂