The Crown and the Crucible by Michael Phillips and Judith Pella

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me.

The Crown and the Crucible by Michael R. Phillips and Judith Pella

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

(Click the title to find the book description/blurb.)

Anna, a young woman of the peasantry. Katrina, a young woman of the aristocracy. And pre-revolutionary Russia, feeling the heat of political conflict, imminent war, and inevitable change to the empire in The Crown and the Crucible by authors Michael Phillips and Judith Pella.

If I’d read this novel, first published in 1991, back in my adolescence, it might have been nigh on perfection to me.

Indeed, the story is vivid in its detail, particularly in the areas of religion, politics, and war. The simmering of social unrest is palpable, as is the layered tension between an older generation that doesn’t fully understand the discontent, ire, and passion of a younger generation hungry for a new social order. The landscape is ripe for revolution, and the historical and ideological complexities of the novel had me engrossed.

However, if I’d been younger when I’d read it, I might not have noticed what seems to be a dichotomy of tones and styles in the book.

The story goes from something rich and serious to something that’s overdramatic and almost juvenile in its quality. The narrator and characters alike begin to essentially “shout” maybe forty-five percent or more of what they say, complete with excessive exclamation points and italics. The opinionated narrator spells out pretty much everything about humble, tearful, timid Anna and spoiled, self-centered, willful Katrina. The characterizations of the two young women and other people in the story, as well as the story’s development, are rather simplistic with a lack of nuance…until the style and tone settle down and shift back to something richer and more serious. Such shifts seem to happen several times throughout the novel.

Perhaps the tell-all, commentating narrator is a throwback to classic literature. Perhaps the stretches with a more juvenile flavor are meant to reflect some of the characters’ immaturity. Perhaps the style will smooth out or shift completely one way or the other as the saga continues, or when the novels switch to only one author. I’m not sure.

Nevertheless, even with its parts that were fluff to me, the novel built a substantive and intriguing foundation overall that has me interested in seeing what happens next in the series.


Here’s my review of the next book in The Russians series, A House Divided.


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