The Stolen Empire series by Sherry D. Ficklin is classified as Teen and Young Adult historical romance. I picked up the first book free (and it is still available free on eBook) many months ago.
Even though I enjoyed the first book (see Goodreads review here), it didn’t really compel me to continue on with the series.
I’m not a huge fan of historical fiction. The fact the first book does not have a happy ending (sorry, not trying to spoil anything for you here) didn’t help things.
In fact, the series doesn’t have a happy ending.
If you’re familiar with Russian history at all, this shouldn’t surprise you.
If you’ve heard of Catherine the Great, empress of Russia, you might be shaking your finger at me saying, “Why would you expect a happy ending from that story?”
Queen of Someday
The first book opens with Sophie fending off an attack on her carriage. It’s traveling across the barren, snow-covered Russian landscape. Not unguarded, but the guards were surprised by the attack.
From this first scene, I loved this ferocious girl who knew how to protect herself. I also knew to expect more threats against her life. The German princess traveling to Russia wasn’t heading to a safe haven.
This story shows her interactions with the empress Elizabeth, the heir apparent, Peter and a number of courtesans. Sophie struggles to learn the language and proper etiquette. She befriends one of her ladies’ in waiting and attempts to fall in love with her intended groom, Peter.
Instead, she falls for one of his best friends.
We know the relationship is doomed. Still, we press through more attempts on her life, hoping they will find a way to be together.
This book ends with her taking the name Catherine at her induction into the Russian Orthodox Church. She is going to leave foolish Sophie behind and become indomitable Catherine.
The star-crossed lover theme is well-played. Tension is high throughout the book. It was difficult to put down.
However, it wasn’t a happy story. No matter how well-written and engaging, I find it impossible to give five stars to anything that doesn’t leave me feeling better when I finish it.
Queen of Tomorrow
The second two books I read recently when the three titles were offered by the publisher in a boxed set for a buck. You know me and my passion for buck books.
This picks up a year after the first book and reads like an adult novel. I’m surprised that this series has been successfully marketed to teenagers. The library journal specifies it is for ninth grade and above, but I found much of the content – especially in the third book – more appropriate for an adult audience.
Also, Catherine is married with a lover, facing no situations that a relatable to a teenager in our era. Not that the story is bad, because I think this might have been the best of the three books, but it just felt wrong in the YA genre.
In this story, we see the politics of the times enter into Catherine’s life as she struggles to cement her place in the ruling hierarchy by producing an heir. Will she choose to side with Prussia, her former homeland, or truly sell out to the Russian populace, who desperately need a ruler to care for them?
It holds court intrigue and manipulations on every level. Again, a page-turner. The end will get your eyebrows raised.
I was glad to be able to continue reading the saga in the final book of the trilogy.
Queen of Always
This finishes Catherine’s journey from the unloved wife of the crazy Peter, Emperor of Russia (for a short time) to Empress.
Having read the first two books, the reader comes to expect death threats and attempts on Catherine’s life. And wonders – at least I did – why no one is trying to kill crazy Peter. Why are they happy to let him rule?
Because a careless puppet is easier to control than a strong-willed queen.
The romantic element in this final book pushes beyond what I would consider acceptable for anyone under eighteen. It toes the line between spicy and erotic, with the implications leaving little to the imagination. Or maybe inciting the imagination beyond the realm acceptable for unmarried, possibly sexually inexperienced teenagers.
Again, there is no true happy ending. Even though Catherine accomplishes what she sets out to do: secure the throne of Russia for her son.
What I enjoyed most about this series is the evolution from the idealistic girl into the realistic woman. Although I disagreed with
many most of her choices, they made sense and built reasonably upon each other.
It is hard not to see her as a hardened murderess by the end of the book. After all the pain she’s suffered, she had to adapt to survive.
Would I have been able to choose differently and ascend to the same heights? Perhaps. But the author couldn’t rewrite history (although she freely admits that the time-lines in the book aren’t accurate to real life, even if the historical events are correct.)
In the end, it made me thankful NOT to be a queen or in a place where I had the power to make life-and-death decisions for everyone around me. I wanted to hug my sons and whisper how much I love them, and give thanks for the caring (not-at-all-psychotic) husband I’m have.
Sometimes, reading makes you appreciate the life you have all the more.
Thank you Ms. Ficklin for writing such a series as this, making me grateful to be the queen of nothing but my little house on the corner.