Teens' Book of the Month: The Rasputin Dagger
Book: The Rasputin Dagger by Theresa Breslin | Age category: 12+
Join Carnegie Medal-winning author Theresa Breslin for her thrilling new book for teens, The Rasputin Dagger.
It’s 1916 in Siberia, and Nina Ivanov’s world is torn apart by the death of her father, leaving her alone and in serious danger. Her only option is to travel to St Petersburg and try to begin a new life there. However, as tensions rise in a city on the brink of revolt and Nina’s life becomes entwined with the unpopular Russian royal family, can she escape danger for good?
Theresa Breslin gives a gripping account of Nina’s life in St Petersburg amongst the growing unrest of The Russian Revolution, seamlessly blending historical events and traditional folk tales with a dramatic plot. This meticulously researched book is a must-read for historical fiction fans and a great way to mark the centenary of the Russian Revolution.
If you'd like to use The Rasputin Dagger with your class, Theresa's website has some great teaching notes linked to the Scottish curriculum which have been developed in consultation with history teachers.
Q&A with Theresa Breslin
What made you interested in writing a book set during the Russian Revolution?
Since childhood I’ve adored books and reading. I love all sorts of stories and being a children’s author allows you enormous freedom to write in various ways. In The Rasputin Dagger I’m able to explore history and also a particularly magical type of story – the Traditional Tales of entertainment and wisdom which we find worldwide. I’ve visited Russia: Moscow and St Petersburg, and as far away as Siberia! It’s a fascinating country. I write across all ages and in various genres. However, many of my longer novels are historical, and, when the centenary of the Russian Revolution was approaching, I broached the idea to my publisher of a new historical novel set at that time. I wanted to show what it was like for two young adults (Nina and Stefan) to live through those incredibly dangerous months. A time of fabulous wealth, heart-rending poverty and the cruel reality of war. As they themselves tell the story, we are with Nina when she trembles on the edge of being overwhelmed by the mysterious monk, Rasputin. With Stefan we watch brutal murder and experience his conflicting emotions when one of his friends joins the Red Guard. We become eyewitnesses to the terrible, tragic fate of the Royal Family. To see opposing sides of the situation I decided that Nina and Stefan would clash on first meeting and argue intensely, until…
What do you find most challenging in writing historical fiction?
It might be straightforward to find the broad sweep and general facts about your chosen time; it’s trickier to uncover the personal detail. But for me, that’s where my characters’ humanity is to be found and how I can imagine their lives. In order to write The Medici Seal, I read the letters of Lucrezia Borgia; for Remembrance, I examined artefacts like shell casings and handled the rough texture of a soldier’s cap to think myself back into WWI. The Rasputin Dagger was much more difficult because some of my characters are ordinary Russians and there is little record of their lives in 1917. But this is yet another reason why libraries are so important! I devoured every resource I could find, spending hours looking through photograph collections etc. Importantly, I’ve learned to be wary of ‘accepted’ facts. The BIG reveal for me when researching The Rasputin Dagger was that in Russia in 1917 there was a Revolution prior to the one in October. Months earlier, on International Women’s Day, the protest marches of the ‘Bread Queue Women’ brought St Petersburg to a standstill and was the direct cause of the Tsar abdicating. Shortly afterwards, Russian women over 20 were given the vote - in 1917. Compare that to other countries!
Can you recommend any other historical fiction which teenagers might enjoy?
Obviously, any book enquiry begins at your nearest library. But there are other ports of call. Scottish Book Trust do great themed booklists. The website of the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction is worth a browse, especially as there is now a Young Walter Scott Prize. And have a look at The History Girls blog. You’ll find that there are screeds of great authors who’ve written historical fiction.
We have 5 copies of The Rasputin Dagger to be won! To be in with a chance of winning one, just answer the question below. The competition closes on Thursday 30 November 2017 at 5pm. All entrants must reside in the UK.