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non-fiction Reviews

Review: The Tsarina’s Lost Treasure

From Pegasus Books, by Gerald Easter & Mara Vorhees. Out 1 September 2020.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The Vrouw Maria is arguably the most extraordinary shipwreck discovery of modern times–a peerless cultural artifact of Enlightenment Europe.

In October, 1771 the Vrouw Maria, a Dutch merchant ship, crashed and sank in the Baltic Sea off the coast of Finland. Hidden deep inside the vessel were a dozen Dutch masterpiece paintings purchased by Catherine the Great. This included The Nursery, the most famous work of Gerrit Dou, then hailed as the greatest of the Masters of the Dutch Golden Age and later eclipsed by his teacher, Rembrandt, thanks to the preferences of modernists. Catherine the Great’s searchers were never able to locate the Vrouw Maria, and its location remained a mystery for over 200 years. Once it was located, shipwreck salvaging politics and maritime legal battles abounded. 

I really did not know what to expect when I started this book. I had anticipated mainly Russian history centred around Catherine the Great, but I instead got a mash-up of Russian history, art history, maritime law, and shipwreck salvaging. If any of these topics interest you, I highly recommend picking this up. 

‘You know the triptych by Gerrit Dou is on board,’ Kjell enthused. ‘That’s the most precious piece of art in the world.’ Indeed, The Nursery was once the most revered painting of the Dutch Golden Age.

Normally, I refuse to read any books set at sea or centred around ships. For some reasons those topics bore me incredibly. I could not put this book down. I was on the edge of my seat wanting to know what ended up happening to the shipwreck and the paintings hidden deep inside. My heart was beating really quickly and I couldn’t tear my eyes from the page, all because of an unmoving shipwreck.

While the ending was disappointing, this is not the authors’ fault. I just didn’t like what ended up happening in real life. The authors did an incredible job setting up the importance of the treasure and then exploring the various power dynamics that determined what happened to it. Definitely going to be shoving this book into the hands of multiple people. 

Thank you so much to Pegasus Press and Book Sirens for the free copy in exchange for an honest review. 

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