I read Charles Belfoure’s first novel and loved it. I read his second novel and thought it was okay. I skipped his third novel because I thought it was too similar to his previous ones. When I saw that he transferred his focus to Imperial Russia, I knew I had to read The Fabergé Secret. Except, now I wish I had avoided it.
Simply, The Fabergé Secret is not good. The first thing that strikes you is the writing. Not only is it pedantic, but it is also incredibly childish. His descriptions are clinical, while any dialogue transitions ruin any narrative flow.
To make matters worse, it feels as if Mr. Belfoure cannot make up his mind just who the bad guys are in his novel. He tends to fawn over the wealth and pomp of the Imperial Court, but then two paragraphs later will rant about how mindless and shallow it all is. He tries to garner sympathy for the Tsar and his family but then condemns them for their ignorance regarding the plight of the poor and the Jews.
To that extent, it is difficult to define what type of novel Mr. Belfoure means The Fabergé Secret to be. The story shifts from Marxist revolutionaries to the Jews to the royals to one member of the elite opening his eyes and learning about all of it. Except, we switch so often to other points of view that it seems that Dmitri’s growing social justice awareness becomes less the main plot and more of a subsidiary one.
The Fabergé Secret feels, to me, like one long, drawn-out lecture by a professor who feels his own superiority to everyone else in the room. Except in this instance, the professor does not have a clear agenda for his lecture and rambles about whatever topic strikes his fancy. His connections between the Russian Jews, Marxist revolutionaries, the Russian elite, and the last Russian Tsar make sense on the surface but lose coherency upon reflection. Combine that with the extremely basic writing style and you have a novel best avoided. There are plenty of other novels that explore the end of the Russian monarchy, the Jewish plight in Russia, and the Marxist revolution and do so with much more clarity, cohesion, and better writing.