- Title: The Master Craftsman
- Author: Kelli Stuart
- Where to buy: Amazon (affiliate link)
- Genre: Christian Fiction, Women’s Fiction, Historical Fiction
- Would I recommend: If you like a good historical read, you may enjoy this one, but the characters’ Christian faith isn’t clearly on display. If you prefer strong faith themes in your Christian fiction, this may not be the right read for you.
In 1917, Alma Pihl, a master craftsman in The House of Fabergé, was charged to protect one of the greatest secrets in Russian history–an unknown Fabergé Egg that Peter Karl Fabergé secretly created to honor his divided allegiance to both the people of Russia and the Imperial Czar’s family. When Alma and her husband escaped Russia for their native Finland in 1921, she took the secret with her, guarding her past connection to the Romanov family.
Three generations later, world-renowned treasure hunter Nick Laine is sick and fears the secret of the missing egg will die with him. With time running out, he entrusts the mission of retrieving the egg to his estranged daughter, Ava, who has little idea of the dangers she is about to face. As the stakes are raised, Ava is forced to declare her own allegiance–and the consequences are greater than she could have imagined.
This modern-day treasure hunt from award-winning author Kelli Stuart transports you into the opulent and treacherous world of the Russian Revolution to unearth mysteries long buried.
I am a sucker for Russian history. I remember traveling to see the Catherine the Great exhibit in Memphis with my mother back in the early 1990s. Such opulence! Such treasure! Such beauty on display! It made an impression. So I jumped at the chance to read and review Kelli Stuart’s The Master Craftsman. A secret egg crafted by the master himself, Peter Karl Fabergé? A treasure hunt for this lost piece of history? Yes, please! Sadly, it didn’t quite hit on all cylinders for me.
First, the things I liked. The story is told in a dual-timeline fashion, and Stuart uses that technique to great effect. A portion of the past revealed would often provide information on the next clue our treasure hunters needed to move forward. I didn’t find the shifts between time periods too confusing, and I enjoyed the historical sections most of all. You hear about the Russian Revolution from the aristocrats’ point of view, and you hear about the impact it had on the everyday folks. Fabergé, as one of the royal family’s master artisans, wasn’t quite royalty, but had perks in life that the common folk were lacking. You never really hear the story from that perspective. In this telling, it sounds like being close to royalty wasn’t a benefit and might have even been a detriment to the Fabergé family.
The treasure hunt was also a pretty good adventure! There are clues to be figured out, a little bit of cyber sleuthing to be done, and some pretty nasty bad guys to be faced down. It offered some nice suspenseful moments, and I was invested in the outcome. I also appreciated that an older character (closer to my age!) was involved in the hunt. Good not to let the youngsters have all the adventure!
Now for what didn’t really work for me. My biggest disappointment is the distinct lack of a strong faith underlying any of the characters’ actions. Nick Laine, a renowned treasure hunter, bailed on his family years ago to chase the dream and the goods. Now that he’s dying of cancer, he hopes to reunite with his estranged ex-wife, Carol, and daughter, Ava. My goodness, what a golden opportunity there for characters to act out their faith and portray a beautiful moment of reconciliation and redemption of the years they had lost. Did that happen? Nope. There may have been a couple of mentions given to prayer, and Carol cautions against the use of swearing as “unnecessary language.” But none of the characters portray any sort of real faith in God or any sort of reliance on Him, even in really hairy situations. If you like your Christian fiction more overtly Christian, keep in mind that you won’t find that here.
It also bothered me that Ava tended to take advantage of her neighbor, Zac. He obviously had feelings for her, and she knew it, but it felt to me like she played on his feelings when it was advantageous for her. She was slobbering all over Xander, their treasure hunt guide, very nearly from his first appearance. She persisted even when Carol tried to remind her more than once that hey, maybe you need to tone that down, knowing that Zac is clearly hooked on you. I know, the heart wants what the heart wants. But that part of the storyline seemed almost high schoolish in the way Ava so visibly crushed on Xander and ignored how Zac felt.
In summary: Interesting historical detail, vivid imagining of what Fabergé’s life might have actually been like during the Revolution, lots of adventure with the treasure hunt, minimal mention of the Christian faith, and Ava came across as kind of a mean girl to Zac a lot of the time. I enjoyed it enough to give it three stars. Had the faith component been more prominent and fleshed out, my rating would have bumped up to four stars. Read it for the adventure, not the faith.
Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher, Revell. All opinions here are mine, and I don’t say nice things about books I don’t actually like.