Pages - 273
Published by Chicken House in October 2012
'Hold my hand, Sophie. We have to leave!'
It was her father's voice. She couldn't see him, but she knew, somehow, that his hair was dishevelled and that he was wearing his tatty overcoat, the one with the hem that hung down like a ragged wing.
Alone in the world, Sophie dreams of being someone special, but she could never have imagined this.
On a school trip to Russia, Sophie and her two friends find themselves on the wrong train. They are rescued by the beautiful Princess Anna Volkonskaya, who takes them to her winter palace and mesmerises them with stories of lost diamonds and a tragic past. But as night falls and wolves prowl, Sophie discovers more than dreams in the crumbling palace of secrets.
You can't review this book without discussing the cover and the gorgeous purple edging. What you can't see from the photo is the sparkly bits and silver lettering which make this book look absolutely stunning. The purple edging which seems to becoming a more common addition to books recently really sets it off. If I was a kid, I would like nothing more than to find this book in my Christmas stocking. I think it might just be my favourite cover of the year.
The book is set in Russia during the winter, which just adds to that Christmassy feel. A huge amount of snow features which left me in desperate need of a lovely hot chocolate and a hot water bottle. At times I actually felt physically freezing, especially when Sophie and her friends found themselves thrown off a train in the middle of the night during a snow storm.
The richness of the prose in the first chapters had me reminiscing my childhood favourites such as The Children of Green Knowe and The Wolves of Willoughby Chase. It really has that timeless quality to it. As the book progressed I did become absorbed into the story although I will admit that I found it slowed a little too much in the middle. Thankfully the ending really pulled me back into the book and I was completely transfixed by the story.
Many of the characters were lovely - although as normal the animals won my heart. The wolves were just adorable, even though to begin with they were portrayed as threatening predators. The baddies of the book, were really mean as they tried to make Sophie's life even harder than it already was. A few characters in the book talk with Russian accents and I did find that jolted me a little out of the story. However I am fully aware of how difficult it is to write a character with an accent and the balance between too much and too little has been dealt with very well in this book.
I loved that this story had a strong influence of Russian folktales and I really hope to see more authors using them in the future. This is a beautiful book that I would personally buy for any child who still believes in a world encased with magic.