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The Witches of St Petersburg by Imogen Edwards-Jones
Oh my! What a book! What a tale! The Witches of St Petersburg is a book that is filled with both fact and fiction, as we are taken on a fascinating historical journey back in time to that of the Russian Imperial Court and the Romanovs.
Described as a ‘lavish’ read, this book is an obvious labour of love for the author, a book that has it’s roots in a conversation between the author and a very dear friend, journalist Nikolai Antonov, back in 1992.
Historical fiction, from many different eras, always holds a special appeal for me, but I must admit this is the first book that I have read with such a Russian theme.
The Witches of St Petersburg were real. Two sisters, Princesses from Montenegro, with an interest in the occult, their father married them off to Russian aristocrats with money and influence. Montenegro was in financial difficulties at the time and he needed his daughters to marry for power, in the hope of strengthening his own position in Eastern affairs.
Militza and Anastasia (Stana) came to St. Petersburg with an aura attached that immediately made folk uncomfortable in their presence. Members of the Russian elite shared no affection for the two sisters, sniggering behind their backs and referring to the smell of goat that followed them whenever they entered a function room or banquet hall. Militza and Stana did meddle with the ‘otherworld’ and soon their reputation preceded them at certain private events, among others who believed in the spirits and who requested their presence at the Ouija boards and clairvoyant tables.
Militza’s marriage developed into a respectful partnership and her married life was happy but for Stana, life was very difficult. Her husband had little regard for her and spent most of his time keeping other company in Biarritz. This left Stana with time on her hands, and together with Militza they inveigled their way into the company of the Tsar and Tsarina, soon becoming part of the inner circle. With this position came trust and the sisters were to learn the most secret thoughts of the Tsarina, a lonely woman who craved a son, a young prince to carry on the reign of the Romanov family. But this struggle to bear a boy was real and the sisters, using every method and manner at their disposable, welcomed many a guru and renowned charlatan into the fold.
As the years passed the Tsarina failed to give birth to a boy and the sisters became very concerned about their own, by now quite elevated, positions within the court. Looking to the spirit world, the sisters begged for help and assistance. This was the point when the lives of all at the court were to change dramatically.
Grigori Rasputin, a roaming mystic from a small village in Siberia, was to become a huge part in the ultimate collapse of the Russian Empire. His arrival to St Petersburg carried with it an air of mysticism and hope. These were challenging times in Russia, with the ordinary folk repelled by the lavish and opulent lifestyles of the aristocracy. Rasputin’s timely appearance was just what the court needed. His ability to influence their decisions and lives is just fascinating to read about. The descriptions of this man are truly vile. His lifestyle was incredible, as he built a harem of women from all walks of life who adulated him and craved his company in every manner. These women were willing to succumb to all his sexual demands with a frenetic fervor that was quite incredible. Every description of Rasputin refers to his lack of cleanliness, his odour, his general appearance but yet he attracted the Russian elite to him like bees to a honey trap.
His power over the Imperial family is clearly documented as was his introduction to the court by Militza and Stana but this was to be one of the greatest mistakes they could have made…
I was both repulsed and intrigued reading about Rasputin. Imogen Edwards-Jones leaves very little to the imagination, as his treatment of women and his lewd behaviour is quite graphically described. Not for the faint of heart I might add. The action of many of the aristocracy at the time was heavily influenced by their addiction to opiates, with cocaine being one of many elixirs imbibed. The party atmosphere was quite dark with seances and mystical behaviour a huge attraction. Mixed with a high intake of drugs and a penchant for sexual deviance, these were very hedonistic times indeed!
The Witches of St Petersburg is almost encyclopedic, with it’s vast list of characters and it’s background insight into the Romanov family and it’s subsequent downfall. I did struggle with all the names but there is a glossary at the beginning that can be referred to if necessary.
The Witches of St Petersburg is certainly a book that may not appeal to all. There are quite explicit images that many may have a difficulty in reading about. Imogen Edwards-Jones does not spare in her descriptions, particularly those of Rasputin, where you can almost smell him off the pages. Quite a despicable character in every way.
The Witches of St Petersburg portrays the decadent lifestyle of the Russian aristocracy. As the empire was falling down around them, they seemed almost oblivious to the chaos that was looming.
It is quite clear that the author is passionate about Russian history. The level of detail, the references to the fashion, the jewels, the architecture, combined with the debauchery and the occult, all make for one very exhilarating and fascinating read.
I had never before heard of ‘The Black Peril’, as the sisters became known as. It really is worth looking up their history alone, with Militza living until fairly recently, 1951.
The Witches of St Petersburg is an intoxicating read, an, at times, uncomfortable read, but always, an intriguing and engrossing read. One for all historical fictions fans and especially if there is the added interest in the black arts.
Provocative. Compelling. Scandalous. Outrageous. Intriguing.
(C) Swirl and Thread
Order your copy online here.