In this robust historical set during the Romanov twilight, Alexander (The Kitchen Boy ) chronicles the careers of two emblematic individuals-the real-life Grand Duchess Elisavyeta ("Ella"), sister of Alexandra, the last tsarina, and the fictional Pavel, a young revolutionary. The author's extensive knowledge of Russia allows him to invigorate the narrative with telling details that bring the aristocrat Ella, who eventually became an Orthodox saint, convincingly to life. His depictions of workers' miseries, from the breadlines to sausage made from cat, are especially strong. Pavel takes part in key events affecting Ella-such as the planning for her husband's assassination-as well as in the street violence that metastasizes into the Bolshevik Revolution. Quick-cutting between the two characters' perspectives gives readers the opposing viewpoints of nobility and proletariat, emphasizing the obliviousness of each group to the other. As in Doctor Zhivago , coincidence abounds and some scenes and themes call to mind that classic, but this is a compelling journey through momentous events that wraps up with a fine, deeply moving finale.