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Prince Alexander M. Velitzyn and his twin brother, Prince Andrei, begin their life due to something between an unpleasant joke and a punishment. Their father, Prince Mikhail Velitzyn, was forced to act as a jester for Empress Anna Ioannovna, as punishment for an alleged affair with a Catholic noblewoman. The Empress decided to force a jester's wedding between Prince Mikhail and a female jester at the Court - a humpback named Avdotia Buzheninova. Sealed in a wedding chamber made of ice, the couple almost died - Avdotia did, in fact, die nine months later after producing the twins she conceived that day in St Petersburg. As soon as he was able, their father fled to his family estate to remarry, taking his sons with him.
This beautifully written story is told from the point of view of Prince Alexander, product of that bizarre union. He soon discovers that his strange beginnings have left him with a tragic ability to create ice. Not only is he impervious to the cold, but he creates feelings of freezing in others, which leaves him distant from other people and resentful of his inability to be physically close to others. Alexander also lives a (very) long life, which enables the author to take him through a long period of Russian history. We see him join the Elite Lieb Guards, travel to where his brother, sister in law and nephew are involved in a siege, join an expedition in search of the Northeast Passage and more. Alongside Alexander, we witness the time of the French Revolution, of Napoleon, visit the Far East and more, as history unfolds before him. Many real people play cameo roles in this novel - such as Mary Shelley - with nods to literature and history, which readers will enjoy. It is a novel with enormous scope and beautiful prose; an unusual book and a love letter to ice.