Motley's historical fiction Men on White Horses centers around the rise to power of Russia's great empress, Catherine the Great. From her childhood as an impoverished minor German princess to her marriage to the somewhat crazy heir to the Russian throne, Catherine had to navigate some pretty tricky political waters to save her own neck. Motley's work focuses less on period detail and more on Catherine's love life, not a small feat. Her marriage and love affairs were the stuff of legends. She sticks to generally known history, albeit very sympathetic towards her heroine Catherine. No big revalations to be found in this book....I thought it an excellent introductory read for those unfamiliar with Catherine or Russian history. At 550+ pages, it's a large book, but the pages just flew by for me.
"I want to ride at the head of my men on white horses. It has taken me so long to reach them."
Published by Thriftbooks.com User , 11 years ago
German Princess Joanna of Anhalt-Zerbst brings her daughter Sophie to the Russian Imperial Court with an eye to marrying her to Peter Ulrich, the Empress Elizabeth's heir (Peter is pro-Prussian and not fond of the Russians). Sophie senses Russia is her destiny and takes it to heart, learning the language and converting to the Orthodox faith, and baptized as Catherine (Ekaterina). She and Peter are wed, but he is a bit of an odd duck and more interested in playing with his toy soldiers (no, I am not kidding) than consummating the marriage and producing the necessary heir and a spare. Of course the wife is always the one to blame and a shunned, isolated and frustrated Catherine can't resist the temptation to take on a lover when the opportunity comes upon her - but does Sergei truly love her or does he have other motives for seducing her? After several attempts Peter finally consummates the marriage and the required heir is produced, but he tires of his wife and takes up with a new mistress and the two live the debauched high life of the younger court-set, leaving Catherine to find comfort where she can. She drifts at first, and you might start getting annoyed wondering where the formidable Catherine we know from the history books is, but don't worry - that butterfly does emerge from the cocoon, "I did not come here to satisfy my own desire for love, or for the security of a family and hearth. I came here to rule Russia, and that, whatever you may think now, is what I am eventually going to do." The aging Empress finally breathes her last and Peter is Tsar, but his loyalties to Prussia strike fear into the heart of the Russians. Will Catherine's latest lover be the cavalier leading the men on white horses she's dreamed of? Well, if you know your history you know what happens next and if not you don't want me spoiling it for you. Despite a bit of a slow start, made especially confusing with the numerous courtiers and their multiple titles (just stay focused on the main players and you'll get past it), I have to say I enjoyed this a lot. This is a more *romantic* take on Catherine, but Motley seems to stay true to the basic facts of Catherine's life, and I was really surprised to learn that she wasn't Russian born, but a minor German princess. While Catherine does take on lovers, the sex (with one odd exception and that's over quickly) is fairly tame by today's standards but there was one that's too good not to share, "She gave the kind of glad shout she was accustomed to keep for the hunting field, and rode madly towards the quarry they both were chasing. Stasio caught her mood and went with her, exultantly matching his pace to her wild career. Accomplished sportsmen, they both came in for the kill at the same moment, dividing it to their equal satisfaction. Afterwards, in a flurry of laughter and kisses, the Grand Duchess fell from her mount." And no, what ever game they were hunting, it wasn't venison :). At first I was considering a 3.5
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