Blood Red Snow White

Book review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
Blood Red Snow White Book Poster Image
Atmospheric tale of English witness to Russian Revolution.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Readers will learn a great deal about the Russian Revolution and what led to it, and the details about Tsar Nicholas II and his family, as well as Rasputin and other key players (Trotsky and Lenin especially) during that time. They'll learn about "White" Russians, "Red" Russians, the factions within the communist government, and the various ideologies and historical events surrounding Russia's transformation in the early 20th Century.

Positive Messages

The book promotes the importance of storytelling, words and journalism, and of following your passion and ideals. War can change people and leave people without a sense of home. Good intentions and ideas can twist and turn into something messy and bloody.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Arthur is a wonderful writer. He's faithful to Evgenia, but he isn't very fair to his first wife. Although Arthur loves his daughter, he chooses to leave her behind in England to follow his passion in Russia. Evgenia is a loyal to Arthur, intelligent, and kind.

Violence

People are assassinated/executed -- like the Tsar and his family -- or killed in battles or poisoned and drowned. People are "disappeared" and their deaths lied about, and others die of starvation in poverty or in prison.

Sex

Sex (adultery included) is described in general terms without graphic language. Arthur describes nights of passion with his first wife and also with his mistress (he's not technically divorced for a while). Rasputin is described as a bisexual who slept with married women and men.

Language

Infrequent strong language: "bitch," "arse," "s--t."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Characters drink -- usually vodka -- and occasionally overindulge, with some drunkenness. Rasputin is described as an alcoholic. Characters also smoke cigars and cigarettes.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Blood Red Snow White by award-winning author Marcus Sedgwick is a historical novel about English children's author and journalist Arthur Ransome, who witnessed and became a part of the Russian Revolution. Told like one of the fairy tales Ransome was famous for writing/translating, the story closely follows the rise of the Russian Revolution and the fall of Tsarist rule. Originally published in the United Kingdom in 2007, it was republished and repackaged in 2016 for American young-adult readers. But considering the themes and subject matter (war, espionage, adultery, assassination, revolution), it's best for mature teens and adults who enjoy reading historical fiction.

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What's the story?

Marcus Sedgwick's historical novel BLOOD RED SNOW WHITE tells the story of Arthur Ransome, an English children's author and journalist who not only covered the Russian Revolution for the British press but also acted as an informant and spy during it. Told in three parts, the story follows Ransome as a young father leaving behind his daughter and unhappy marriage to write in and about Russia. While in Russia, which he considers a magical land of poetry and passion, he ends up falling in love with Trotsky's secretary. He tells the story of Tsar Nicholas II and the Tsarina's fanatical devotion to Rasputin, and he ends up with such strong ties to the Reds that both the British and the Bolsheviks wonder if he's a double agent.

Is it any good?

Told in Sedgwick's signature lyrical style, this fairy tale-structured historical novel tells many tales surrounding the rise of the Russian Revolution and the fall of the Romanov dynasty. The idea that Ransome, an English author and journalist, was involved in the Revolution is probably more fascinating to Brits familiar with his work. But audiences who enjoy historical fiction will also find it a compelling, if at times leisurely paced read.

It's difficult to imagine a teen without an established interest in the time period or area wanting to delve into the story, but Sedgwick is such a good author that he makes it all work. The atmospheric nature of the book immerses readers in the snowy landscapes, the impoverished countryside, the elaborate luxurious Imperial palaces. The romance is fairly grown-up, but those seeking a side of love story with their historical insight will enjoy Ransome's affair with Evgenia, Trotsky's personal secretary. While it touches upon many historical figures and facts, the novel is ultimately a tribute to Ransome's love of stories and the places (like Russia) that inspire them.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the violence in Blood Red Snow White. Does it have a different impact when you know it's based in historical events?

  • Does the book make you want to learn more about the Russian Revolution, the rise of the Bolsheviks, and the fall of Tsar Nicholas II and his family's dynasty?

  • What makes past wars so compelling to revisit? What historical or current events would you love to read a novel about?

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