Linda Holeman is an author I discovered by chance five years ago when I picked up one of her books, The Moonlit Cage, in the library. I enjoyed it and went on to read two more of her novels, In a Far Country and The Saffron Gate, which I also loved. All three are long, engrossing historical fiction novels with fascinating settings including 19th century Afghanistan and India and 1930s Morocco. The Lost Souls of Angelkov was published in Canada in 2012 and I was disappointed to find that it was not being published in the UK…but Traverse Press came to the rescue a few weeks ago when they contacted me with the news that an ebook version is now available to UK and US readers.
The Lost Souls of Angelkov is set in Russia in 1861, the year serfdom is abolished by Tsar Alexander II. The emancipation of the serfs leads to huge changes in Russian society as the serfs try to adapt to their new freedom while their former owners struggle to manage their huge estates with nobody to work the land. One of these landowners is the fictional Count Konstantin Mitlovsky who owns the estate of Angelkov in the Province of Pskov.
One day the Count and his young son, Mikhail (Misha), are out riding when they are attacked by a group of Cossack horsemen. Ten-year-old Misha is kidnapped and Konstantin himself is wounded. As the Count’s health deteriorates, it is left to his wife, Antonina, to take control of the situation and continue the search for their missing child. Antonina, however, is an alcoholic and seeks comfort in drink, finding it difficult to cope with what has happened. And so she turns to the only two people she feels she can trust – her maid, Lilya, and the estate steward, Grisha, neither of whom are quite what they seem…
I’m so pleased that I’ve now had the opportunity to read The Lost Souls of Angelkov, because I enjoyed it as much as the other Linda Holeman books I’ve read. I wasn’t sure I was going to like it at first, though. Antonina is a very flawed character (as are most of the others in the novel) and I found her reactions to her son’s kidnapping very frustrating! On the other hand, people don’t always behave the way we would like or expect them to and as the story progressed I started to become aware of the reasons for Antonina’s behaviour. In an arranged marriage to a man old enough to be her father, her married life has been unhappy and lonely, and because of the lack of freedom available to women of her time she is unable to pursue her dream of playing the piano professionally. As I learned more about Antonina’s background I began to understand and have sympathy.
The stories of not only Antonina but also Grisha and Lilya unfold gradually through flashbacks and this helps to explain the complex relationships between the three of them. I think getting to know these three characters and discovering the truth about their pasts was actually a lot more interesting than the storyline of Misha’s kidnapping! There were a few coincidences that I couldn’t quite believe and I also found the ending a bit dissatisfying (not all of the characters had the happy endings I was hoping for), but The Lost Souls of Angelkov was still a great read. I didn’t have much previous knowledge of Russian serfdom and the challenges facing the serfs and landowners after emancipation, so I loved that aspect of the story.
I hope I won’t have to wait too long for a chance to read Linda Holeman’s next book, but meanwhile I should go back and read The Linnet Bird, the only one of her earlier novels I haven’t read yet.
Thanks to Traverse Press for sending me a copy of this book for review.