Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly is one of my favorite historical fiction novels, so when I heard that she was releasing a prequel to this lovely story I knew I had to get my hands on it. Though Lost Roses was released in April (which I purchased the day it was released), and I was beyond eager to read it, I just now read and finished it this week. Despite my delay, my anticipation of this book was just as strong as the day I hit "Add to Cart" when purchasing it online. My hopes were high, for Lilac Girls set a precedent for Lost Roses. The million-copy bestseller Lilac Girls introduced the real-life heroine Caroline Ferriday. Now Lost Roses, set a generation earlier and also inspired by true events, features Caroline’s mother, Eliza, and follows three equally indomitable women from St. Petersburg to Paris under the shadow of World War I.
It is 1914, and Eliza Ferriday is thrilled to be traveling to St. Petersburg with Sofya Streshnayva, a cousin of the Romanovs. The two met years ago one summer in Paris and became close confidantes. Now Eliza embarks on the trip of a lifetime, home with Sofya to see the splendors of Russia: the church with the interior covered in jeweled mosaics, the Rembrandts at the tsar’s Winter Palace, the famous ballet. But when Austria declares war on Serbia and Russia’s imperial dynasty begins to fall, Eliza escapes back to America, while Sofya and her family flee to their country estate. In need of domestic help, they hire the local fortune-teller’s daughter, Varinka, unknowingly bringing intense danger into their household. In the midst of the overthrow of the Russian tsar, Sofya and her family are forced to give up their secure and lavish lives. Each day they begin to face uncertainty of whether or not that day will be their last.
On the other side of the Atlantic, Eliza faces trials of her own as tragedy strikes in her family. In the midst of grief, to keep busy she is doing her part to help the White Russian families find safety as they escape the revolution. As Sofya’s letters suddenly stop coming, she fears the worst for her best friend. She begins planning a trip to Europe as soon as possible to figure out the fate of her best friend. From the turbulent streets of St. Petersburg and aristocratic countryside estates to the avenues of Paris where a society of fallen Russian émigrés live to the mansions of Long Island, the lives of Eliza, Sofya, and Varinka will intersect in profound ways. In her newest powerful tale told through female-driven perspectives, Martha Hall Kelly celebrates the unbreakable bonds of women’s friendship, especially during the darkest days of history.
Lost Roses was a beautiful novel in its own right, however, when compared to its predecessor it falls short. Lilac Girls holds a special place in my heart, as World War II fiction is a favorite era of mine to read, and I better connected to those characters. Lost Roses was brilliantly and eloquently written but personally lacked the strong connection I made with Lilac Girls characters. However, the one character I always found myself connecting to was Sofya, as my respect for her grew with each chapter. When not comparing the two books, I feel that Lost Roses is easily a top historical fiction novel for me. The narrative never strayed or became too slow, and I always found myself engaged, never wanting to put the book down. I enjoyed learning about the happenings of that era, like the overthrow of the Romanov family, as it is always fascinating to learn about events that I am not quite as familiar with. Though the book included many tragedies, there was always a bright light of hope for each one of the main characters. And as always, it is inspiring to read a well-written story about empowerment and overcoming obstacles. I certainly recommend this book to historical fiction fans. And to those who have yet to read historical fiction, this book may just have you discovering a new favorite genre.