Find out the latest indie author news. For FREE.


Irmgarde Brown
Children in the City of Czars: A Novel
Orphaned in 2000, the Lebedev siblings are alone in the underbelly of the most beautiful city in the world, St. Petersburg. Fedya is nearly thirteen and tries his best to keep them together but fails. He surrenders his two sisters to the orphanage system and joins a ring of thieves. It’s not long before the gang has a run-in with the Russian mafia and Fedya becomes the focal point of a madman’s revenge, and a race across Russia into Latvija. His sister, Elena, is brutally bullied at the orphanage and almost loses her life, while their youngest sister, Irina, is illegally adopted out of the country. Despite their circumstances, the siblings hold on to a quixotic hope to reunite. Whom can they trust? Possibly, no one.
Brown (Sister Jane) spotlights the cruel fate of orphaned children in 1990s post-Soviet St. Petersburg in this heartrending saga, the first of the Lebedev Orphan series. When the Lebedev siblings—Fedya, Elena, and Irina—are left to fend for themselves after their mother's tragic death in St. Petersburg, 12-year-old Fedya shoulders the immense responsibility of providing for his two younger sisters amidst their dismal surroundings and extreme poverty. However, as winter approaches and his efforts are failing, Fedya makes the painful decision to entrust his sisters to the politsiya, hoping they will receive better care from the agency’s social workers. That harrowing choice sets off a chain of events that separate the three siblings and drastically alter their life paths.

Fedya soon finds himself in the company of a gang of petty thieves, struggling to make ends meet, while Elena and Irina are placed in separate orphanages, each facing their own daunting challenges. The echoes of their mother's dying words, "Stay together, Fedya. You must do everything you can to stay together," serve as a constant motivation for Fedya, propelling him to relentlessly search for their mother's brother, Uldis—who Fedya believes is his only hope of helping him reunite with his sisters. Conversely, in the orphanage, nine-year-old Elena is bullied by the other girls and discovers solace in the compassionate social worker Valentina Alexandrovna.

Brown’s personal connection to Russia—her adopted daughter grew up in St. Petersburg—grants her a unique perspective to capture the lives of the Lebedev siblings. What truly distinguishes Brown's narrative is her intricate portrayal of each sibling's voice—Fedya and Elena’s grave undertones are fitting, given their age and circumstances, while Irina, just four years old, is gifted with a more playful approach. Thankfully, the siblings’ journey ends on a hopeful note, and readers will be left wanting to know more of their story.

Takeaway: Heartrending story of orphaned siblings fighting to stay together in post-Soviet Russia.

Comparable Titles: Teri M. Brown’s Sunflowers Beneath the Snow, Kristina Gorcheva-Newberry’s The Orchard.

Production grades
Cover: A-
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: NA
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A