British writer Arthur Ransome returns to Russia as a reporter during World War I but finds his job description somewhat altered after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. Having built relationships with a variety of Bolshevik leaders, including Karl Radek and Leon Trotsky, Arthur is able to pass valuable intelligence to British officials. The Bolsheviks also make subtle offers and attempts to gain Arthur’s assistance for their cause. But the strongest temptation is Evgenia, Trotsky’s secretary and the love of Arthur’s life. Arthur wants to remain in Russia to be with her, but must stay in the good graces of both the British and the Bolsheviks in order to do so. Arthur straddles this line as best he can, until the turmoil becomes too great. The Bolsheviks struggle to maintain control of a fragmenting country while royalists gather forces and reclaim territory. In order to get himself and Evgenia out of Russia, Arthur must navigate this dangerous no-man’s-land between warring sides one last time.
In contrast to most young adult historical fiction—especially war narratives—Marcus Sedgwick’s novel is refreshingly oblique. There is no clear good or evil side, or even a definitive right and wrong, but simply a well-intentioned character using his best judgment to help himself and others. The fairy-tale theme highlights this sense of paradox: Multiple stories, or truths, may exist about the same thing. With a challenging three-part format, beautiful language and a unique adult male narrator, this dazzling novel based on true events should be the next historical fiction young readers reach for.