Ellen Alpsten

St. Petersburg, 1725. Peter the Great lies dying in his magnificent Winter Palace. The weakness and treachery of his only son has driven his father to an appalling act of cruelty and left the empire without an heir. Russia risks falling into chaos. Into the void steps the woman who has been by his side for decades: his second wife, Catherine Alexeyevna, as ambitious, ruthless and passionate as Peter himself.

Born into devastating poverty, Catherine used her extraordinary beauty and shrewd intelligence to ingratiate herself with Peter’s powerful generals, finally seducing the Tsar himself. But even amongst the splendor and opulence of her new life—the lavish feasts, glittering jewels, and candle-lit hours in Peter’s bedchamber—she knows the peril of her position. Peter’s attentions are fickle and his rages powerful; his first wife is condemned to a prison cell, her lover impaled alive in Red Square. And now Catherine faces the ultimate test: can she keep the Tsar’s death a secret as she plays a lethal game to destroy her enemies and take the Crown for herself?

From the sensuous pleasures of a decadent aristocracy, to the incense-filled rites of the Orthodox Church and the terror of Peter’s torture chambers, the intoxicating and dangerous world of Imperial Russia is brought to vivid life. Tsarina is the story of one remarkable woman whose bid for power would transform the Russian Empire.”

-Excerpt taken from Goodreads.

Check Goodreads to see the book’s ratings.

My Opinion

 4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5) This is a very difficult book to rate. First off, I’ll start with the audio. The narrator did not even use different voices. However, I was never confused who was talking. She was great and put just the right amount of emotion in with so many emotional scenes. Definitely a fabulous narrator.

Secondly, the history. Aaahhh, I love the historical aspect. I don’t know why Russian history is so fascinating, but it is. I have never heard Catherine Alexeyevna’s story and now I want to read everything about her. I feel I know her Russia. I feel I know her as a person. That is phenomenal writing.

Thirdly, the content. This is where I struggled. There was so very much content that I cringed at, and pushed the skip button for. There were rapes; yes, there’s an S on there, because there were multiple. There was poverty, families selling daughters, executions, beheadings, torture, child deaths, stillborn babies, murder, suicide, whippings, forced prostitution, severe cruelty to others and more. While this content is difficult to read, this does not include the detailed sex. I’m not shy about my distaste for details in intimate moments, but there were quite a few of them. Some were born of passion, some were born of force. It was very difficult to listen at times.

The story as a whole was gripping. This woman endured so many difficulties throughout her lifetime. It started when she was very young and I had to check multiple times if this was a true story. It is based on her life so while not all the details are true, the majority are. It is told in first person which made it that much more powerful.

Her relationship with Peter (the Czar) was one of the most interesting aspects of the book. She met him by chance and made an impression. This led her to becoming his lover and providing him many children. The majority of the children did not live for one reason or another (2 out of 12 lived to adulthood) but he stood by her for so long. I often wondered if what she felt for him was love. It never quite said. Her life previous to him was full of so much abuse and despair that I wondered if she knew she’d never have the chance for a life even similar to what he could provide for her, so she did what she needed to keep him interested. There were times I wondered if she loved him or was just playing the “game” that kept her in his life. The politics of his position and her as his lover were fascinating. The things they did to maintain those positions and keep up their image was astounding. I’ve always thought royalty or people in leadership do not have an envious life. If there was anything to ever solidify that opinion, this audio definitely did that for me.

Peter was an interesting person. He was cruel. Cruel to the point of astonishing me many times. For the most part, he kept that cruelty away from Catherine Alexeyevna. She had to turn her head away to many of his horrors. At times I don’t understand why she stayed with him but I also understood why she couldn’t leave him.

Multiple times I wanted to know her age. The horrors and achievements in her life were definitely many, some at a young age. She learned to be cruel when she deemed necessary and I often wondered if it was worth it? For her it seemed to be. There was war, small pox, the pressure for sons and also the push for her to be number one for Peter. She couldn’t have been very old when he died, I believe she was about 40.

I feel I could talk about this audio for days. The intricacies of her life could make an entire series. I recommend this audio for all historical fans. However, I say that with the recommendation for that skip button or ability to skim pages if needed. This is not for the sensitive reader. It is not for those with huge triggers. It is very detailed and very intense.

A huge thank you to Macmillan Audio and St. Martin’s Press for the gifted audio in exchange for an honest review.

**As an Amazon associate I earn from qualifying purchases. 


  1. I’ve heard amazing things about this book even though the content is tough. I would probably have a hard time reviewing it too 😅 I love Russian history too – I think I entered literally every giveaway for this book but never got lucky lol

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