Man, I wanted to like this… and I did, for probably the first 2/3 of the book. It was the cover that intrigued me first, and the title. Then the concept: an escaped princess from Bolshevik Russia, who also happens to be a ballerina, finding love with a Scottish surgeon in Paris in wartime. What’s not to love?
At first, the pacing was great, and the characters were compelling too. I was especially engaged by the story line of Winn, the physician on the cutting edge of heart surgery, who bucked the established recommendations at the time and engaged in daring surgeries that had the promise of saving lives, even at the risk of his license. Much of this resonated with me, as there are many elements of current medical “standard of care” that I think are, at best, not patient-focused. Yet many physicians in the regular medical system feel like they’re forced to comply, or lose their livelihoods. Winn’s experience was a terrific dramatization of this.
Svetlana finds herself in dire straits, in debt because of her childish mother’s extravagant gambling, and thus forced to marry a mob boss. She thinks she has no way out, until Winn, a man to whom she is drawn but has kept at arm’s length, offers to marry her to protect her. It’s an old trope, but it usually still serves as a very interesting premise nonetheless.
Unfortunately, the story went RIGHT down the tubes after that, very fast. I can’t remember the last time I’ve read such a terrible love story. The characters, which were well written before, devolved into cardboard, with no psychological complexity at all. They stated exactly what they were thinking and feeling, in the moment–no dissembling whatsoever. When they felt loving, they waxed nauseatingly poetic about it. But that was all too fast, so they had to have a contrived misunderstanding: he meant to tell her the truth about the conflict regarding his medical license, but he delayed telling her because she begged him to be in the moment with her. Then she found out some other way, and she decided she could NEVER, EVER trust him again (so out of proportion to what actually happened, such that Svetlana became exasperating and insufferable.) Finally, enter the old lover for Svetlana, just so we can check the old love triangle box too… but, surprise! He turns out to be a villain, so that Winn can play the dashing hero… ugh. I normally listen at 1.8 speed. I sped up to 3.0 at the end so I could just finish already. If it had been that bad from the beginning, I’d have given up within a chapter or two, but it was a bait-and-switch, and by then I was so close…
Sadly, I can’t even say I was too terribly surprised when I learned that the publisher was Thomas Nelson, which is exclusively Christian content. This was in no way a religious book, just a clean love story… but Christian fiction tends to be unbearably cheesy. Usually this is in service to a Christian message, but apparently not exclusively so.
My rating: **1/2
Sexual content: none
Violence: none to speak of
Political content: none