REVIEW: Written on the Wind by Elizabeth Camden
He carries a dangerous secret, but can he survive long enough to expose it?
Count Dimitri Sokolov has been charged with overseeing construction of the legendary Trans-Siberian Railway, but during this work, he witnesses an appalling crime, the truth of which threatens the Russian monarchy. In an effort to silence him, the czar has stripped Dimitri of his title, his lands, and his freedom . . . but Dimitri has one asset the czar knows nothing about: his deep and abiding friendship with Natalia Blackstone.
Natalia is the lead analyst for her father’s New York banking empire and manages their investment in the Trans-Siberian Railway. Her bond with Dimitri has flourished despite the miles between them, but when Dimitri goes unexpectedly missing, she sets the wheels in motion to find him. Once they join forces, they embark on a dangerous quest in which one wrong move could destroy them both.
From the steppes of Russia to the corridors of power in Washington, Dimitri and Natalia will fight against all odds to save the railroad while exposing the truth. Can their newfound love survive the ordeal?
Before I get started let me address the fact that the hero of this book is Russian. He’s also the kind of person who is doing a difficult job to prove himself when he witnesses something appalling that shakes him to his soul. It is something he can’t forget and something that he risks much, up to and including his life, to see that justice will be done, and more importantly, that it won’t happen again.
Dear Ms. Camden,
I’ve read many of your novels and am impressed by the historical backdrops and details you include in them. This one is different and fascinating. However it strikes me as more a historical novel with a romance rather than a historical romance. There’s a saga feel to it as well as long stretches of time when the hero and heroine are on opposite sides of the world and unsure if they are pursuing a relationship or not. The start is strong but I feel it slowed down and lost momentum by the end.
I haven’t read “Carved in Stone,” the first book in the Blackstone trilogy but apparently the telegram relationship between Dmitri and Natalia was sparingly shown in it. Dmitri has spent the last three years in challenging conditions overseeing the construction of the vast Trans-Siberian Railway which is being partly (but still massively) funded by loans from the vast Blackstone Bank located in New York City. Natalia Blackstone, for a long time the only child of her father, has been raised to take her place there as an analyst and oversee projects, one of which is the Trans-Siberian Railway.
She and Dmitri have exchanged telegrams over the years which has led to the development of a close friendship. They discuss literature, music, weather conditions, and Dmitri’s health. As he is chatty and tends to dramatize a lot, Natalia teases him about that while he bemoans her taste in German composers – really he has little appreciation for Beethoven. As her mother was Russian, she likes Russian composers but felt betrayed by Tolstoy killing off Prince Andrei. Dmitri argues that suffering is in the Russian soul and the best books have the hero die nobly. They cheer, spur, and goad each other on. Then tragedy strikes.
For his refusal to order his men to aid the Russian Army in clearing ethnic Chinese from a settlement north of the Amur River, Dmitri is arrested, stripped of his title, lands and wealth, tried and convicted, then sentenced to years of hard labor in the iron mines. It is essentially a death sentence as few return. But he has an escape plan and his faith in Natalia helping him expose the massacre keeps him going through it. Will Natalia be willing to risk not only her reputation but also the bank’s in order to aid Dmitri in assuring that the cover-up is revealed and force the Czar to publicly reaffirm the Treaty of Aigun?
As with most of your books, the story is filled with details and I wound up learning a lot. The telegrams exchanged between the MCs are delightful and show much of their personalities and interests. Dmitri’s past grumblings about the conditions under which he lived while working in Siberia and his health might have made Natalia chide and tease him but the horrors he faces and overcomes in the months during which he crosses over 4,000 miles to freedom prove he’s no lightweight.
When he arrives in America, and at this point I’m madly applauding Dmitri for overcoming obstacles that would thwart most of us, he and Natalia finally meet and realize that their friendship goes beyond “work friends.” Natalia is astonished and horrified at what Dmitri’s been through and why he was arrested. Yet when he reveals his initial plan, designed to force the Czar’s hand, she’s also horrified as it risks everything she’s worked for and achieved as a woman in the banking industry of 1900 New York. Her father loves her, has supported her in the face of the standard “woman banking analyst??” denigrations but Natalia is under no illusions that if her actions harm the bank’s reputation or bottom line, Oscar Blackstone won’t yank her from her position.
Natalia is smart though and comes up with an alternative plan. She’s dismayed when Dmitri insists on enlisting backup aid in the form of Natalia’s snobbish step-mother but Dmitri’s come too far and fought too hard to ignore someone who can help him no matter if his friend Natalia and her step-mother “not so cordially” loathe each other. The machinations walk the reader through the halls of power and influence in NYC and Washington as well as including some fascinating tidbits about historical personalities. It’s political hardball and ultimately someone will pay a price.
At this point, the plot seems to start meandering a bit. Our two MCs are faced with situations that pull them apart again – I’d guestimate that approximately 1/3 of the book has them separated – and life choices which they fear will keep them apart. This is – I think – only the second book I remember reading in which a case of mumps as an adult impacts a hero’s ability to father a child. Added to this, Natalia veers off in a new business direction while Dmitri faces some hard truths about conditions in Czarist Russia. There’s also some follow up for the couple featured in “Carved in Stone” plus more page time for the hero of the next book. With all this happening, I felt I was losing the relationship of Dmitri and Natalia here and had to keep reminding myself that they were supposed to end up together. Frankly at times I had my doubts. I list the book as an inspie though I’d call it “lite.” Both characters are religious and pray as well as call on God to help them but there is no proselytizing. It’s not specifically mentioned for Natalia but I assume she is also Russian Orthodox as she prays in a private chapel her mother set up in their home.
I loved the start of the book, the relationship between Dmitri and Natalia, Dmitri’s determination to survive and see justice done, and the way that they work together to achieve this. The last third of the book kind of let me down and didn’t match the intensity of the rest. Dmitri’s declaration scene was lovely but they seemed to sort of sputter into their HEA rather than roar into it. B-