Blog Tour: Read an extract from The Witches of St Petersburg @HoZ_Books

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Brimming with black magic, sex and intrigue, a gorgeous historical novel for fans of Dinah Jefferies and Santa Montefiore.

The Russian Empire is on the verge of collapse. Revolution is in the air. The starving stalk the streets of St Petersburg and yet the Imperial Court still commute between their estates and organise their lavish balls.

Two sisters arrive in the city. Princesses from Montenegro; they are famed for their wild beauty and mystical powers. Initially ridiculed and outcast as the daughters of a provincial 'Goat King', they react in the only way they know how. They befriend the isolated Tsarina Alexandra and, using their gifts, they help her in her increasingly desperate quest to give birth to a son and heir. The circle closes. The girls are the gateway. Gurus, clairvoyants, holy fools and charlatans all try their luck. Then in one last, doomed, throw of the dice, the sisters introduce Rasputin into the Russian Court...

Based on the true story of the lives of Princess Militza and Princess Anastasia of Montenegro during the dying days of the Russian Empire, The Witches of St Petersburg is a tale of love, lust, power and betrayal at the heart of the Romanov Court.

Extract:

‘It looks as if everyone is having a break,’ replied Militza. ‘Of course,’ said Stana. ‘Nothing to do with our arriving.’ ‘Nothing at all,’ said Militza, as they continued to skate around and around the empty rink. ‘If we keep going, they’ll soon get bored.’ ‘I’m sure they will,’ agreed Stana. ‘Although I have to say my feet are killing me!’ ‘So are mine!’ Militza replied and they both laughed. Neither of the sisters had ever skated so long and so determinedly in their lives. Their feet were freezing, their breath was landing in small crystals of hoar frost all over their furs, but still they carried on.

‘I am not sure how longer I can do this,’ muttered Stana, her ankles beginning to burn. ‘I shall skate until the aurora borealis comes dancing up the river,’ declared Militza, clasping her hands a little firmer in her muff. It was the children who returned to the ice first. Unable to hold them back any longer, reluctant mothers and governess released them, scrambling and skidding, back onto the ice. They were rapidly followed by the young couples and giggling groups of girls. The day was too beautiful and too rare not to be taken advantage of. In fact, it was only the old guard, sitting on their benches, stiffening in the breeze, who seemed to able to smell the heady lemon musk at all. At just after 3 p.m., the ice began to empty. The Grand Duchess Vladimir was one of the first to disappear, along with her silver salvers and gloved servants. ‘I am not sure I have ever seen skates like those!’ she declared as she walked past the sisters. Stana and Militza simply smiled in reply.
After the Grand Duchess, the other skaters dissipated quickly, leaving the sisters among the last out on the ice. They sat on a wooden bench, untying their skates as the sun slipped behind  a cloud. Suddenly, it was deeply cold and the drop in temperature was accompanied by a sudden rush of wind. Militza looked up. Flying towards them, at low level, was a flock of starlings, some two to three thousand strong. They swarmed past her and up in the air over the spires of the St Peter and Paul Fortress on the opposite bank, their beating wings, swooping overhead, sounding like the smacking of waves or the gentle clapping of applause. They curled up like smoke, spun like a top, flowing like a great river. Militza had never seen a murmuration like this before. They dispersed; they came back together. They seemed to disappear completely and then gather like a large, dark, ominous cloud over the golden spires, snaking around them like a giant serpent. They ebbed and flowed, morphing from the shadow of a great black beast into a disparate cloud of nothing, only suddenly to reappear, racing across the river like a swarm of locusts. Once, they flew so low and fast over the ice, Militza could feel the wind of their wings on her face. She closed eyes and inhaled slowly. She could feel their energy. They made the hairs on her arms stand up. She felt a sudden rush of adrenalin.
‘The Tsar is dead,’ she muttered under her breath. ‘He’s dead,’ she said, turning to look at her sister sitting next to her on the bench. ‘Who?’ ‘The Tsar is dead.’ ‘Long live the Tsar,’ replied Stana, staring across the frozen river at the heaving black swarm. ‘Long live the Tsar.’ 

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