Review: The Russian Concubine — Kate Furnivall

Read: 75
To Go: 25

Book List:
71. The Perfect Hope — Nora Roberts
72. Tigers in Red Weather — Liza Klaussman
73. Waking Up Married — Mira Lyn Kelly
74. For One More Day — Mitch Albom
75. The Russian Concubine — Kate Furnivall


Junchow, China, 1928. Perhaps it’s her red hair or her hard life. Whatever, the reason, Lydia Ivanova has a fierce spirit. Nothing can dim it, not even the foul waters of the Peiho River. Into the river’s grime bodies are tossed, those of thieves and Communists alike. So every time she steals some marketplace treasure, the sixteen-year-old takes her life in her hands. Her mother, Valentina, numbered among the Russian elite until Bolsheviks rounded them up. They took her husband, but Valentina managed to buy back her child and bring her to China.

Now, though mother and daughter live in the whites-only International Settlement, no walls can keep Lydia in. She escapes to meet Chang An Lo, a handsome youth with fire in his eyes. He returns her love, but other dangers threaten him. Chiang Kai-shek’s troops are headed toward Junchow to kill Reds like him — and in his possession are the priceless jewels of a dead tsarina, meant as a gift for the despot’s wife. Their all-consuming love can only bring shame and peril upon the pair, from both sides. Those in power will do anything to quell it. But Lydia and Chang are powerless to end it.

I’ve had The Russian Concubine on my shelves for months now, and I wish I’d had time to read it earlier. But today worked out nicely — I had lots of time on the train, and in my hotel room, to start and finish the whole book. And man, was it ever a fabulous read. If I wasn’t bone tired from my super-long day, I’d probably write a huge essay on everything I loved about The Russian Concubine, but here’s the shorter version instead, so that I can get to bed soon.

The Russian Concubine was fabulous as both a work of historical fiction, and a beautiful love story. Kate Furnivall created a vision of Junchow so compelling that I felt like it was real — the story was so rich with detail that I could see and almost smell the streets of the deeply conflicted Chinese city. The characters were all utterly compelling, even the ones that held the damaging prejudices of the time. And the love story between Lydia and Chang, how they just felt bound to one another, in a time when it was utterly unsafe to fall in love with someone outside their race, was heartbreaking and wonderful and just totally swoon-worthy. Can I have a Chang of my own?

I have a plan for the new year: read more of Kate Furnivall, because The Russian Concubine was a gorgeous piece of fiction.

Next book: The Closers by Michael Connelly. It’s short enough that I can probably finish it on the train ride home on Friday.

– Kelsey


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