"There'll be some kind of treaty between the sovereigns, and everyone will go home. It won't make any difference in the end. That's the sad thing about it all - that when it comes right down to it, it's all for nothing."
This is the second book in Cynthia Harrod-Eagle's Kirov trilogy and begins in 1851 as the Great Exhibition opens in London. Fleur Hamilton is the daughter of an eccentric botanist who prefers to wander the world looking for the rarest plants and letting his children be raised by others. Fleur is accosted by ruffians while out riding and is rescued by a mysterious stranger who disappears before leaving his name, although she does eventually find him - Count Sergei Kirov, a diplomat like his father Nikolai (from Anna).
Like a moth to a flame, Fleur can't stay away from the elusive Count who seems to return her affections in kind - or is he just amusing himself at her expense? Eventually Sergei cuts her cold and Fleur returns to her country estate to nurse her broken heart. Fast forward two years and the Hamiltons journey to St. Petersburg and her father leaves Fleur in the care of a wealthy Russian merchant as he tramps off to Siberia in search of a rare orchid. Fleur soon finds herself in a social whirl that includes the Kirovs - will Sergei break her heart once again? What is the emotional baggage that he carries from his previous marriage that keeps him from declaring his feelings for Fleur? Or does Sergei love another?
The story eventually switches to the south, as the British and French invade Crimea and Fleur finds herself torn between two countries, two men and the horrors and injustice of war as she's trapped in the Seige of Sebastopol.
"There had never been vultures in the Crimea before, as everyone knew; now, since the Alma, they were appearing, mysteriously, in large numbers, circling the army and hopping and flapping on its flanks like shabby undertakers haunting an almshouse."
I really never knew much about the Crimean War outside of the stories of Florence Nightingale and I have to say this was an eye-opener. The British soldiers were packed like sardines on ships with inadequate food and water and were dropping like flies from disease before they even landed in the Crimea, let alone being ill prepared for a Russian Winter. All that loss of life for one more useless war.
Like Anna, the first half of the book is rather slow-paced, and there's a lot of day-to-day detail that some readers might not care for - if you need a heroine in constant need of rescue from her latest pickle this might not be the book for you. I enjoyed it, especially the *inside look* at the daily lives of the Russians, along with Fleur's debates with Sergei over the serfs and slavery, I suspect that will carry over into the third book Emily which leads into the Russian Revolution. As for Sergei's big secret and Fleur's eventual happiness? You'll never guess, that was one finish that I never ever saw coming. 4/5 stars.