This is a modern work of historical fiction, set during the nineteenth-century emancipation of the Russian serfs with all the social upheaval that involved. It does a good job of capturing the mood and tone of a Russian novel as tragedy piles on tragedy and the “lost souls” who inhabit the estate of Angelkov are lost indeed. Every major character in the novel — the unhappy wife Antonina, her maid and friend Lilya, lord and master Konstantin and the estate steward Grishka — is a complex bundle of thwarted desires and mixed motives, and the larger forces of Russian society press in turmoil press in upon them all, making happy endings seem impossible.
The story is set in motion when Antonina and Konstatin’s young son is kidnapped by recently freed serfs who hold him for ransom. The crisis puts an unbearable strain on an already unhappy marriage and on a mother who is just at the brink of falling apart. It’s quickly followed by a near-fatal injury and illness for Konstantin, who is wounded in an attempt to rescue his son, and in crushing financial disaster that seems it will result in the loss of the estate. But as the story moves forward it also moves backward, exploring the lives these characters have led before the kidnapping, showing what shaped them into the people they are today. It’s a very readable, compelling story set in a well-delineated historical period, and should be both interesting and informative for lovers of historical fiction.