The Concubine's Secret by Kate Furnivall

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The Concubine's Secret by Kate Furnivall

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Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Meghan Burton
Reviewed by Meghan Burton
Summary: Lydia Ivanova leaves her Chinese lover, Chang An Lo, to search for her father in the depths of Russian labour camps. With her half-brother, Alexei, and faithful Cossack Liev Popkov, Lydia risks everything to learn what has happened to a man she barely remembers.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 528 Date: July 2009
Publisher: Sphere
ISBN: 978-0751540451

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As a sequel to Kate Furnivall's first book, The Russian Concubine, The Concubine's Secret helps to tie up some hanging storylines and in general provides an entertaining follow-up. In the first book, we watched Chang An Lo and Lydia Ivanova fall in love against all the odds. Here, they must remain in love despite being separated by most of a continent. As you might expect, the reader spends most of the book hoping for them to find a way to finally be together.

While Lydia's search for her father is contradictory to this goal, it makes for a much more exciting plot. I loved Lydia's return to her homeland. While Furnivall's descriptions weren't vivid enough for me to picture it from her writing alone, Lydia's feelings about Russia are conveyed very well. Meanwhile, all the typical Russian stereotypes are in evidence, from Lydia's big burly companion to the sleazy Muscovite politicians to the secret police, both official and unofficial. This book's Russia is one that has been fictionalized over and over again and feels very familiar, both an advantage and a disadvantage. Furnivall isn't doing anything new, but the book is a much easier read for that.

The Russian setting also allows for descriptions of Lydia's father in the labour camps, possibly the most compelling and moving scenes in the book. He and his fellow prisoners have been selected for their genius and assigned to a special project, but despite their current luxury (which will probably end in death) they have strong memories of the horrible time they spent in Russian labour camps. The extent to which they have changed due to their painful circumstances is truly moving and saddening, leaving the reader to wonder about the real men and women who were worked to death under Stalin.

Lydia and Chang An Lo remain compelling characters throughout the course of this book. We get a deeper glimpse into their love for one another as it lasts through the many obstacles with which the couple are confronted. Unfortunately, their story is not completely concluded here, and has me wondering whether Furnivall plans a third book to cover their further lives, whether together or not. I would have preferred a more distinctive conclusion, but others may prefer this open ending better.

The secondary characters are similarly endearing if a bit shallow. As I have already mentioned, Lydia's father is a wonderful addition to the cast. I enjoyed the deeper look into the head of Lydia's newfound brother Alexei as well; he's a surprisingly tormented man and his plotline did not go nearly the way I was expecting. The other characters sit on the outskirts, but most of them are new additions and add to the story in their own ways.

There are problems with the book, however; namely, it felt much too long. Not every scene progresses the plot and somewhere in the middle it begins to drag heavily. Lastly, there is a plot twist tossed in at the end which feels very added on and artificial. There is no lead up for it and it doesn't really make sense in the context of the rest of the book.

As a result, my recommendation for this book is not universal, and I'd really only suggest it to those who enjoyed the first one.

Thank you to the publisher for sending a copy to The Bookbag! We also have a review of Furnivall's The Far Side of the Sun

If this book appeals to you then you might enjoy Restitution by Eliza Graham, or Cross Stitch by Diana Gabaldon for another epic love story in a different location.

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