There never was a story that was happy through and through.
When writer Arthur Ransome leaves his unhappy marriage in England and moves to Russia to work as a journalist, he has little idea of the violent revolution about to erupt. Unwittingly, he finds himself at its center, tapped by the British to report back on the Bolsheviks even as he becomes dangerously, romantically entangled with Trotsky's personal secretary.
Both sides seek to use Arthur to gather and relay information for their own purposes . . . and both grow to suspect him of being a double agent. Arthur wants only to elope far from conflict with his beloved, but her Russian ties make leaving the country nearly impossible. And the more Arthur resists becoming a pawn, the more entrenched in the game he seems to become.
Blood Red Snow White, a Soviet-era thriller from renowned author Marcus Sedgwick, is sure to keep readers on the edge of their seats.
This title has Common Core connections.
About the Author
Marcus Sedgwick was born and raised in Kent in South East England, but now lives in the French Alps. His books have won and been shortlisted for many awards; most notably, he has been shortlisted for Britain’s Carnegie Medal six times, has received two Printz Honors, for Revolver and Ghosts of Heaven, and in 2013 won the Printz Award forMidwinterblood.
Read an Excerpt
Blood Red Snow White
By Marcus Sedgwick
Roaring Brook PressCopyright © 2007 Marcus Sedgwick
All rights reserved.
A RUSSIAN FAIRY TALE
ONCE UPON A TIME ...
BEYOND THE SUNRISE, halfway to the moon, and so very far away it would make your feet weep to think about it, lies a land vast in size and deep in sadness. From where we sit, on the far edge of history, we can see across Time itself, and yet this land is so big we struggle to see all of it at once.
Nevertheless, here it is: Here's a river as wide as a sea, and into it flows a stream as wide as a river. In summer salmon leap through the cool fresh water, in winter the ice is as thick as a house is tall.
* * *
There's a forest as large as a country, and in the heart of the forest is a single hut, from where we see a man, an old man with a great gray beard, staggering out in the winter-deep snow. He carries an ax slung on his back, for he's a woodcutter, and despite the snow, he has to keep his orphaned grandchildren warm. He doesn't see the bear padding through the snow just half a league away, but neither does the bear see him, and in the remote depths of the forest, half a league is as good as a thousand.
* * *
There! Away at the sunset edge of the land; soldiers! Soldiers in the millions, fighting a great war, which seems to be without end. We know that it will end one day, when enough of them are dead, but the soldiers do not. They have fought for so long they have forgotten what it is they are dying for. Look! Another one is killed; the top of his head blown clean off by a bullet at close range. His hot red blood freezes before it even reaches the ground.
* * *
And there's a man, a young man, a stranger to the land, who is foolish enough to think he can walk across its endlessness.
Remember him. He carries a small leather suitcase in one hand and a strange but sturdy wooden box in the other. In his heart there is pain, but in his head there is wonder; wonder and a delightful tumble of words he has been trying to learn. Russian words.
For this is Russia.
A MAGICAL LAND
THE WOODCUTTER, HAVING MISSED THE BEAR, came home to his grandchildren, his little boy and girl, and, because nothing made them happier in the world, he told them a fairy tale.
As always, the moment he came through the door stamping the snow off his boots they jumped up and began to pester him for a story.
"All in good time, little pigeons," he laughed, "just as soon as we've had our soup!"
So they ate their steaming soup and thick black bread, and when they were done, Old Peter the woodcutter told his grandchildren a fairy tale. The tale he told them is the one I am telling you now, and it's the story of the Tsar, the man who ruled over the whole great country.
Just the word Tsar tells you how powerful he was, because of where it comes from. Some people spell it Tsar, others Czar, and if spelled that way you begin to see another word, the word from which it grew: Caesar. Those Roman emperors ruled many lands, but our Tsar holds sway over one hundred and eighty million people. Imagine. One hundred and eighty million people, maybe three times the number that Augustus or Marcus Aurelius ruled.
An empire this large needs a powerful Tsar. That is what the Tsar's father told him when he was just a little boy, a little boy called Nicky. And when Nicky's father, Alexander, was little, that's exactly what his father had told him, too. This is the truth and they know it, because God has told them so.
How else could you rule a land so very, very big? Only a sharp and decisive man, with a single vision, can keep hold of something as massive as Russia, and as magical. For it is not simply its size that makes it so cumbersome, but its superstition. Even the Imperial symbol is a mythical beast — a fabulous double-headed eagle that looks both ways at once.
Up in the city, on the banks of the mighty river Neva, sits the Chamber of Wonders created by Peter the Great; a museum he founded in an attempt to dispel the superstitions of the peasants.
There, hidden in drawers and on display in glass-fronted cabinets, are hideous things. Monsters, freaks, and ghouls. Stuffed and mounted, a sheep with two heads, and snakes with two tails. Monkeys with three arms, a stillborn lamb with eight legs. These are the stuff of nightmares and they are also the seed of fairy-tale monsters, but they are nothing to what is in that final cabinet, the one in the corner of the room. You saw it from the edge of your eye as you came in, saw the crowds flocking around it, heard their awed silence. Even now you find your feet pulling you over to it unwillingly, your eyes refusing to shut though your heart is praying they will close forever.
There in the case: dead things. Things that might have lived once, maybe for a year, maybe just for an hour, maybe born dead. Their skin bleached by preservative salts; their faces contorted as if shrieking in horror at themselves, screaming for all eternity as if they caught sight of their reflection in a looking glass. Their faces scream as the crowd should, but does not. Babies with two heads, like the sheep. Unborn Siamese twins, with two legs but two heads and four arms. A fetus with no head at all, but countless arms, like an octopus.
Peter, the Great, the modernizer, decreed that all these monstrosities should be brought to his city, to show they were natural, not magical. He wanted to show that in the vastness of his empire there was nothing but nature's law. He wanted science to spread light like the sun over the winter forest. But his efforts achieved exactly the opposite, and people gasped and crossed themselves and pressed their noses against the glass until it became opaque with grease.
He tried to take the magic from Russia, but the magic would not go. Even the names of places tell you that magic is as much a part of this land as the soil or the river water: Irkutsk. The Caspian Sea. The Sea of Okhotsk, the Sea of Japan. Kazan, Murmansk, Kharkov, and Vladivostok.
There is magic in those words, just as there was tragedy in the blood of the Tsar and his family.
A tragedy that was a hundred years in the making.
LIFE AND BLOOD
THERE WAS TRAGEDY all across Europe. Tragedy in the shape of war.
If you looked at the family trees of the royal houses of Europe, you would find more threads between them than in a busy spider's web. The Tsar had a cousin who was a king of another country. His name was George. Nicholas, the Tsar, and George had another cousin, William, the Kaiser, who had gone to war against Nicholas's and George's countries. It made no sense, but then when has a war made sense?
* * *
Let me return to the fairy tale, of the Tsar and his people. The Tsar was in trouble, for his was a story nearing its end.
For three centuries the Tsar's family had ruled like gods over their empire. From time to time there had been an outbreak of opposition, as some foolish soul tried to upset the old order, but each and every time, that order had been restored.
So the Tsar lived with his family still. He had a wife, Alexandra, who he called Alix, just as she called him Nicky from the time when they had fallen in love. They lived in a beautiful palace; in fact, they lived in many beautiful palaces. Each was more sumptuous than the other, but there was one special palace, prized the highest: Tsarskoe Selo. Here they lived with their beautiful children, four daughters — Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia — and their only son, the boy of great sorrow, Alexei.
Alexei, who carries his sorrow, and Russia's tragedy, in his blood.
They wanted for nothing. In the same way that the Tsars and all their families had wanted for nothing down the centuries, every wish that could be dreamt of the Tsar granted his blessed wife and children.
Our woodcutter and his grandchildren could never have begun to even imagine the splendor of the imperial palaces. Where the woodcutter had three spoons, of wood, one for himself, one for his grandson, Vanya, and one for his granddaughter, Maroosia, the palace had a thousand spoons of silver. Where the woodcutter had three chairs, the palace had four hundred, of gold. And where he had the clothes he stood in and the boots he wore, the Tsarina had ten thousand dresses of satin and silk. Of billowing satin and silk, too, were the coverings for the beds in the royal chambers, where the woodcutter and his grandchildren had a single old woolen blanket each. The Tsarina had jewels, too! Ropes of pearls, long strings, with the most perfect moon-white pearls to hang about her pretty neck. And diamonds! Diamonds by the bucketful, which she kept in a peculiar, small, green leather case.
Even when they sat down to take tea, they did it in style. The Tsarina had a favorite little samovar in which they boiled water for their tea, or rather, their servants did. But the Tsarina loved to pour the hot water into the cups herself, because the samovar was special. It was solid silver, and shone like the white sun low over a frozen lake on a winter's morning, and on its side were her initials in English, the language she and Nicky would write to each other in: AR, Alexandra Romanov.
The woodcutter knew none of this, but went through the woods each day, still unaware of the lurking bear.
And the children? What of them? The Tsar's children had everything they could ask for. Each had a whole room of toys to play with, and they shared not one but a whole stable of rocking horses. Far away in the forest Vanya and Maroosia had nothing, but still they were happy, as they had each other, and their little black cat and tall gray wolf-dog to play with. And they had Grandfather to feed them and keep them warm and tell them fairy tales at bedtime.
I said that the Tsar's children had rocking horses, but that is not quite true; the girls had horses, Olga and Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia, but their young brother, Alexei, did not. Nor did he have a bicycle of his own, nor a bat and ball. He was not allowed to run and play as his sisters did, and he was not allowed to play with the palace dogs.
And why? Not because his mother and father loved him any less than his sisters, but for a different reason: the tragedy in his blood. For there in his veins, passed down from his grandmother, now long dead but once the queen of the British Empire, skulked an evil disease.
The disease was a strange thing that no one could explain. Maybe even strange enough to put Alexei into Peter's Chamber of Wonders, if he were to die. For when the young Tsarevich cut himself, the bleeding would not stop.
Maybe it doesn't sound so serious. You or I might cut ourselves, nicking our hand on the tooth of the saw as we cut logs for the fire. We might take God's name, but think no more of it. You or I might catch the back of our hand against the bread knife as we pass a hunk of black bread across the table in the hut. We might sing to ignore it, but think no more of it. In a few moments the cut would stop bleeding, and we would go on with our soup and stories.
But the Tsarevich, little Alexei, was different. If he cut himself, no matter in how small a way, there would be pandemonium in the palace. His mother would shriek and call for the nurses, the nurses would come and call for the doctors and all would fly around in useless panic, as the cut refused to heal and slowly, but surely, the boy's blood would pour from his body.
One day, Alexei scratched his ear on a thorn. It took three days for the blood to stop. So, as he grew, he was forbidden from doing anything that might endanger him. No rocking horses, no rough games, no running. No fun.
There could be no risk to his life. He was not the first in his family to suffer from the disease. There was an uncle who'd had it, too. Alexei had never known him, because at the age of three he'd fallen through a window. His body bled on the inside, and he never recovered. The Tsar and the Tsarina determined that this must never happen to their son, their only son, and therefore the only future Tsar of Russia. He had to live, so that one day he would rule the empire, as his family had done for three hundred years.
He had to live.
IN THE NAME OF THE TSAR
THE TSAR WORRIED. He worried like no other Tsar before him. He looked inward and he worried about his family, about Alexei and his strange blood. He looked outward and he worried about his empire.
What he saw disturbed him.
There was deep poverty and famine. People were going hungry and were growing angry. Small disturbances on the farms where the peasants worked got out of hand, there had been riots and soldiers had been sent to restore order.
It had happened during his grandfather's time, and his father's. Trying to make the workers' lives better, they had decided to introduce reforms, to give them certain freedoms so that they might earn just a bit more money, to allow them to sell some of what they grew rather than giving it all to the landowner.
The Tsar looked at his people and what he saw disturbed him. He saw clearly what was wrong.
His father and his grandfather had been weak.
They had been indulgent, and now the people were trying to take more than they were entitled to.
"I will never agree to what they want," he declared, "because I consider it harmful to the people whom God has entrusted to me."
He knew what he had to do.
He repealed the reforms and sent soldiers to quell any trouble as soon as it started.
The people's hunger grew worse, and as winter began to bite at their heels, they grew cold, too. Death rode through Russia on a pale horse, taking everyone he could with sickness and famine, and the people grew afraid, and with their fear came more anger. Though the Tsar believed he had restored order, he had not stopped the dark mutterings in hidden corners of his empire.
Seeing the trouble that was boiling up, one young priest decided he had to act.
"Father," the people called him, though he was father to no one.
"Father," they said, "what shall we do? Our children are starving, and dying. We are starving and sick. But what can we do? We are nothing. The Tsar owns us as he would a horse, but cares less for us than those beasts. Help us, Father!"
The young priest heard them and replied.
"We will act, together. Let us go into the city hand in hand, to the very gates of the palace. This Sunday, one hundred thousand of us must march and there we will make our case to the Tsar."
The people looked at him uncertainly, for though they wanted to believe they could do such a thing, they couldn't believe it was possible. The priest, whose name was Georgy, saw the doubt on their faces.
"Believe me," he said. "Go to your families now, and to the houses of your friends, and tell them that there must be one hundred thousand of us when Sunday comes. Tell them this, and there will be."
So they went and told their friends and their families, and everybody told someone else that Sunday would be the day when their lives would change, and in the meantime, Georgy thought about what he had started. What would happen on Sunday? Suppose no one came? Suppose everyone came? It was his doing. He had given the people hope and it was his responsibility. Suppose the Tsar didn't take any notice of them?
But he had to. He had to! And just in case he didn't, Georgy decided to write a letter to the Tsar, to give him on the day. It would be as if one hundred thousand people had handed the letter to the Tsar personally. No one could ignore a letter like that.
On Saturday night he sat down to write it. It was a long letter, polite and respectful, and it was passionate and proud. He asked the Tsar to care for his people, to see their troubles and to take them away, to bring good things to Russia.
When he had finished writing, Georgy sat back in his chair. He had written for an hour and it was late. He rose and took his candle to bed, blew it out and lay in the dark, dreaming of the day to come, and dreamed that no one came. In his sleep, he alone stood quaking before the Tsar, and when he handed over the letter, he saw with horror that he was holding a blank sheet of paper.
The priest need not have worried.
When Sunday came, it was possibly more than one hundred thousand people who flocked into the streets of the city. They joined in a massive throng, and began to walk toward the Winter Palace. As they went, they sang, and the crowd was so very large that many different songs were all sung at once. Here and there the words and melodies mixed with each other, but no one cared. There were women and children in the crowd, too, and there was laughter and hope and comradeship. A tired mother gratefully let her daughter ride on the shoulders of a tough old veteran, the washerwomen from the Neva walked like princesses alongside the sailors, until at last the one hundred thousand surged into the Palace Square, so that Georgy could hand his letter to the Tsar.
In the square, the Tsar had his answer already waiting. Even before Georgy had a chance to hand over his letter, the Tsar gave his reply.
A thousand soldiers stood outside the palace gates.
A thousand soldiers knelt in the snow, and lifted their rifles to their shoulders.
A thousand shots scorched the air, and the blood began to flow.
They screamed and they ran.
Excerpted from Blood Red Snow White by Marcus Sedgwick. Copyright © 2007 Marcus Sedgwick. Excerpted by permission of Roaring Brook Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1942 — Coniston,
PART I: A RUSSIAN FAIRY TALE,
Once Upon a Time ...,
A Magical Land,
Life and Blood,
In the Name of the Tsar,
Engagement and Escape,
Fancy Wooden Box,
Incidences of the Bizarre,
Vladimir and Lev, the Russian and the Jew.,
Exit the Fairy Tale, Enter the Storyteller,
Darkness into Daylight,
PART II: ONE NIGHT IN MOSCOW,
6:00 p.m. Continued,
6:10 p.m. Continued,
8:50 p.m. Continued,
9:20 p.m. Continued,
9:20 p.m. Continued,
9:35 p.m. Continued,
PART III: A FAIRY TALE, ENDING,
1942 — Coniston,
Ransome the Spy?,
Also by Marcus Sedgwick,
About the Author,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This was an interesting mix of fairytale and spy story with a side order of romance. A fictional interpretation of the time Arthur Ransome (author of Swallows and Amazons etc)spent as a spy for seemingly both the Bolsheviks and the British at the time of the Russian Revolution. He was certainly a brave chap in a very British, slightly cackhanded man abroad kinda way. The spy story bit is bookended by fairytale type sequences, the contrast of which doesn't work terribly well, but as Ransome himself started be writing fairytales about Russia, is at least apt. An interesting premise, made more so by the reality behind the fiction, and the British Secret Services reports on Ransome are reproduced at the end of the book.
This book is fantastic. The way the story develops, and the fairy tale style adds another dimension to it. I was hooked from the start. It tells the story of Arthur Ransome (of Swallows and Amazons fame) and his time in Russia during the revolution. He led such an interesting life that I never knew about. Based on fact, but with a lot of fiction thrown in, the story is seamless. The events of the war are told in such a way that I really understood what was happening, and I learnt more about the subject than when I studied it for A Level. The chapter titles were very clever too, particularly towards the end.Very well put together, and enjoyable to read.
There has been renewed interest in the beloved children's author Arthur Ransome lately due to the publication of a new biography: The Last Englishman: The Double Life of Arthur Ransome by Roland Chambers. What many people don't know is that years before he wrote the children's classics, including Swallows and Amazons, for which he is so fondly remembered, he lived and worked in Russia at the time of the revolution. Published in 2007, Marcus Sedgwick's wonderful novel also tackles Ransome's time in Russia. Sedgwick is one of those teen authors whose books are crossover adult reads too, and I can't recommend this one highly enough - it has revolution and politics, spies and intrigue, romance and family drama, all steeped in Russian fairy tales. Stuck in a marriage where he didn't love his wife, Ransome ran away to Russia in 1913, although he regretted having to leave his daughter behind. There he taught himself the language and became a journalist on the Daily News at the start of the Great War. He also covered the 1917 revolutions, and was close to Lenin and Trotsky. There he met the real love of his life, Evgenia, who was Trotsky's personal secretary; they married eventually. He was somewhat sympathetic to the Bolshelvik cause, although remained loyal to his homeland, and this led to MI6 using him through their agent Bruce Lockhart (whose Memoirs of a British Agent - Being an account of the author's early life in many lands and of his official mission to Moscow in 1918 was a bestseller in the 1930s); MI5 also kept tabs on him for years. Ransome's occasional journeys to and from the UK were full of adventure and peril, especially the time the Estonians used him to deliver a secret armistice proposal to Litvinov in Moscow in 1919, where his good reputation with both sides was his life-saver. It was at the start of his self-imposed exile that he wrote his book Old Peter's Russian Tales: these are full of magical talismans, poor peasant folk on quests, cunning animals, greedy men and wicked stepmothers, and Baba Yaga of course. These moral tales are often dark and many don't have happy endings, but really get into the Russian psyche. Sedgwick's novelisation is no dry biography. He starts by using the fairy tales to tell the problems of the people, embodied by a great Russian bear spurred into action against the Tsar by two friends arguing in the forest - they are Lenin and Trotsky. This is superb scene-setting, and Ransome wanders into it and instantly falls in love with a woman stirring a pot on a stove in an office ... 'This is what you want,' she said, almost in a whisper. She nodded at the pot, and Arthur found himself drawn towards her. He looked inside. 'Potatoes,' she murmured, as if it were the most beautiful word in the world. Her eyes lit up and Arthur realised how very hungry he was. He stood no more than a weak moment's decision away from her, and looked into her eyes. This is what you want. And that was how the young writer found love, just when he had stopped looking for it. How can you not be reeled in by the utter romance in those words. Combined with all the derring do of the amateur spy, the author delivers a totally fabulous novel. Swallows and Amazons was his favourite childhood book, and when the National Archives released the files on Ransome, it was a story demanding to be told. Some of the fascinating telegrams from the archives are reproduced in the Appendix. Highly recommended indeed.
Arthur Ransome left his family and his home in England to travel to Russia where he found work as a journalist. His love story with Russia started the moment he set foot on its snow-covered ground and continued as he compiled his first published book--a collection of Russian fairy tales. Over the years Russia would continue to draw Ransome back to it through the first murmurings of unrest in Tsarist Russia, into the first bloody revolution, and beyond. Reporting on the turbulent political climate for an English newspaper draws Ransome unwittingly into the middle of the conflict between White and Red Russia as he is courted to be both a spy and a double agent. All Arthur wants is to hide away and marry the Russian woman he loves. But that proves difficult with her position as Trotsky's secretary and his own murky sympathies. With history being made and the world changing from moment to moment, Arthur will have to choose a side and make hard choices to survive in Blood Red, Snow White (2016) by Marcus Sedgwick. Blood Red, Snow White was originally published in the UK in 2007 and made its first appearance in the US when it was reprinted in 2016. This book follows the sensational real story of novelist Arthur Ransome during his years in Russia as a suspected spy before he would write his Swallows and Amazons children adventure novels. Blood Red, Snow White was originally written shortly after Ransome's MI6 file was made public--details Sedgwick relates in an author's note which includes excerpts from those files. This novel is broken into three parts. The beginning, written in third person, relates the beginning of Arthur's life and journey to Russia as well as the early stages of the Russian Revolution as short fairy tales. The second part of the novel, in a closer third person point of view, follows Arthur over the course of one night in Moscow as he decides if he will agree to act as a British spy. In part three Arthur narrates his story in first person as he tries to make his way back into Russian and extricate himself and Evgenia from the political machinations around them. This fast-paced, literary novel looks at a moment in history through an unexpected lens. Readers familiar with Ransome's own books will, of course, find this novel fascinating. Although some of this novel is, necessarily, speculation it is well-researched and thorough with detailed information about Russia during Ransome's time there as well as key details of Ransome's life. Blood Red, Snow White is an approachable and ambitious novel filled with atmospheric settings and a gripping story of love, adventure, spies, and Russia.