Tale of a Russian Hero

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Today is the last of my short posts regarding the characters in my newly released book, Red Corner, An Alternate History of Rus, A Novel. So far I have covered Ivan III Vasilyevich, Marfa Boretskaya, Princess Zoe (Sophia) Paleologos, and Ivan Kokoshkin. The last person on my list is Oleg Menshikov, right-hand man and best friend of Dmitry Boretsky, leader of the Novgorodian army and eldest child of Marfa Boretskaya, Novgorod’s mayoress. His name – Oleg Menshikov – is after one of my favourite Russian actors, also called Oleg Menshikov, star of such films as the Russian classic Burnt by the Sun and the all-star European movie The Barber of Siberia. My Oleg Menshikov is a man full of love and honour for his country, as well as loyalty in abundance for those close to him. In the book we can observe how he thinks and acts less selfishly than the greedy Novgorodian leadership and boyars, who only ever think about their own gain. In some ways he seems anachronistic for the times, a man more suitable living in the Romantic eighteenth century, a Russian warrior Byron or Keats, focused on the goodness in man in a time when human life was of little importance.

In one scene from the novel, just before the battle of Andrushevo, Menshikov turns to an old soldier:

Menshikov dismounted and walked over to one of his soldiers. The man, in his fifties and small, looked the antithesis of Menshikov’s rugged masculinity. He had in his hands a pitch-fork. His face, dirty but intense and concentrated, looked like it had seen blood and carnage before.

What’s your name soldier?” Menshikov asked him, putting his hand on the man’s shoulder.

Pavel Grigoryovich Kuznetsov, General.”

And the outcome, Pavel Grigoryovich, will we win a great victory?”

The man looked at his general with respect, almost bordering on worship – but it wasn’t quite that, only almost – that was reserved for God, who was their God. Although Menshikov – not a god but its nearest equivalent on earth for them – deserved the reverence. At Shelon, thousands had lost their lives – wasted lives, in Menshikov’s opinion. He was a wonder with a sword, but hated using it. He had gained his reputation through words and the respect other people had for him. All his soldiers sensed this and knew it.

We will beat them, General… You’re our commander so I can only see us winning.”

It is in scenes like this that show Menshikov’s humanity and emotional intelligence. His only wish is for his country to survive the Muscovy onslaught and that he has a long and happy life with his wife and children – will this happen? You’ll have to read the book to find out. But let me say this, of all the characters in the novel, Menshikov is by far my favourite.

The book’s now available in all Amazon stores, as well as in Apple, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and a few more for only 99c/77p! If alternate history with a medieval bent is your thing, and Russian history interests you, then I feel this is a perfect read for you.

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Zoe Paleologos, The Woman Who Changed Russia

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Above: The Despot Thomas of Morea, Zoe Paleologos’ father

Zoe (Sophia) Paleologos (though there are countless variations of the surname) was Ivan III’s wife, and she is one of the main characters of my new book, Red Corner, An Alternate History of Rus, A Novel. Her birthday has always been contentious: some say she was born in 1440, others a decade later, and even some as late as 1455. Whatever her age (I put her for argument’s sake in her mid-twenties in 1470 in my novel), she goes down in history as one of the most dynamic and charismatic female leaders ever. Although in no way more powerful and influential as say, Elizabeth I of England or Catherine the Great of Russia, she had a massive impact on Russia in the middle ages and greatly influenced her husband on governmental and diplomatic issues.  Princess Sophia’s marriage to the Grand Duke of Muscovy took place in 1472, one year after the alternate historical events in my book. By all accounts the marriage was a happy one, which produced eleven siblings (poor woman!).

Below an image of Emperor Constantine IX, Princess Zoe’s uncle, the last Byzantine Emperor, killed by the Turks at the Siege of Constantinople in 1453

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Princess Zoe in my story, however, is very different to the person of history. Far from Rome in this cold and inhospitable land, where she had been under the watchful eye of Cardinal Bessarion, she comes to Muscovy against her own will with a few servants and Brother Sergei of Pskov, who is there to instruct her in the Russian language and her new-old religion (she had been an Orthodox Christian during her time in Morea, Byzantium, before converting to Catholicism in Rome).

If I go on any more, I know I’ll spoil it for all those who are going to read the book – but let one thing be known: Princess Zoe’s time is in no way pleasurable. We see her drift in and out of doubt about why she is there and what part she is to play as a partner and confidant to the Grand Duke. We also see into her mind about her thoughts of love and affection in marriage. Her ideals on this subject are pure. The Grand Duke’s, meanwhile, a purely dynastic in consideration, which wholly disappoint her. What will come of the relationship? Will they make it up the aisle or not?

If you’re interested in purchasing a copy of Red Corner, An Alternate History of Rus, A Novel for 99c/77p, just refer to my previous two posts for links to Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, the Apple IBookstore, Barnes & Noble, Kobo plus a few more platforms.

The image below shows Ivan Vasilyevich III looking at a portrait of his future wife, Zoe Paleologos. It was common in the medieval times for kings, princes and other personages of blue-blooded provenance to look at portraits of their future spouses-to-be as an insurance policy of sorts. Zoe, by all accounts, was an overweight and somewhat unattractive woman – I wonder if the Grand Duke really believed  the woman he was looking at in the picture was the same in real life? Talk about being cheated! 

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