Miss Blaine’s Prefect and the Golden Samovar by Olga Wojtas

Crème de la crème…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

Shona McMonagle works in an Edinburgh library, putting to good use the excellent education she received at the Marcia Blaine School for Girls. Woe betide anyone who requests a copy of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, though – That Book, as Shona calls it, which she believes so misrepresented all that the School stood for. Being a middle-aged woman of steady nerves and common sense, Shona takes it in her stride when the supposedly long-dead Miss Blaine shows up in the library one day. Miss Blaine is not dead, however – she is a time-traveller, and wants to recruit Shona to her elite team of people who travel through time on missions to sort out problems. Soon Shona finds herself transported back to Russia, sometime in the early 19th century, where she believes her task is to save young Lidia Ivanovna from marriage to an elderly general, and instead make sure she marries the super gorgeous and charming Sasha. But, despite her encyclopaedic knowledge of history, her multilingual abilities, and her skill in martial arts, sometimes Shona gets things wrong…

….“Yes,” I said, “every single Blainer is the crème de la crème by virtue of our outstanding education. But a depraved novelist claimed that this epithet applied only to a small coterie, the pupils of one particular teacher. And in a salacious misrepresentation of our beloved school and its irreproachable staff, she portrayed that teacher as a promiscuous adulteress who was prepared to prostitute her pupils. Pupils whose prepubescent sexual fantasises she described in sordid detail.”
….I had to clutch a nearby gilt salon chair for support, and to let my pulse slow down. I pride myself on my self-control, but this is a wound that will never heal.
….A lady sitting nearby leaned forward eagerly: “Please, Shona Fergusovna, may we have the name of this book and its author? In order that we may avoid it, of course.”

Well, this is a total hoot! Olga Wojtas has created a wonderful character in the astonishingly talented but oddly myopic Shona, a woman who can do just about anything but fails to see the blindingly obvious even when it’s right under her nose. The book cover mentions Wodehouse, and I see that comparison – Shona’s Russia has the same unreal quality as Wodehouse’s England, though not nearly as idyllic, and there’s no doubt the book had me laughing as much as Wodehouse does. But I’d be more tempted to compare it to Blackadder – based on ‘proper’ history grossly exaggerated for comic effect and with a central character who is somewhat apart from the others. The Russian aristocracy reminded me very much of Queenie and her courtiers, with their total disregard for their inferiors and their general level of silliness, while Shona’s chief serf Old Vatrushkin could easily have stood in for Baldrick. But Shona Fergusovna (as she calls herself in Russia) is much nicer than Blackadder – her ambition is to help everyone around her, even if they don’t particularly want to be helped.

….“If you’re not able to follow my instructions, then Lidia Ivanovna is not able to go to Madame Potapova’s party,” she said, yellow wool flowing from her needles. “Which is a pity, since I know she would enjoy wearing this fichu.”
….I sighed. “All right. I agree.”
….“You swear?”
….“Never. I believe it’s the sign of a limited vocabulary.”

The plot involves a whole host of ghastly deaths but it’s fine, because nobody cares and they mostly deserve it. One of the most fun aspects is that, unlike in most crime fiction where the point is for the reader to be way behind the fictional ‘tec and surprised by the solution, in this one, the reader sees what’s going on long, long before Shona catches on. Since we’re being told the story by Shona in first person (past tense), we are treated to her constant misinterpretations of the events around her. This could have been annoying if Shona had been less likeable, but it’s her desire to see the best in people and her kindness that lead her astray time and again, plus she’s very funny, sometimes even intentionally. She’s also a feisty feminist, who can’t help trying to spread political correctness everywhere she goes, much to the utter bafflement of everyone she meets, who seem to think their society is fine the way it is. It’s beautifully done – Wojtas manages to make fun of non-political correctness and political correctness at one and the same time.

….“We’ll start with a Dashing White Sergeant,” I told them…
As I played, the other musicians gamely following my lead, I called out clear, simple instructions for dancing the reel. “Forward, back, forward! Grab an arm! Twizzle! Hoppity-hop!”
….But despite the precision of my directions, it was a catastrophe. The dancers careered into one another, crashing into tables and chairs, smashing glasses, knocking over footmen. Then came an ominous commotion at the far end of the ballroom, and a shriek of “Saints in heaven! Save him!”

Olga Wojtas

Then there’s the Scottishness – such joy! So many Scottish writers abandon their Scottishness, understandably, so that their books can appeal to a wider audience. I sympathise, even though it annoys me. Wojtas instead makes a feature of it, and does so brilliantly. There’s no dialect at all that would make it hard for non-Scots to read, but lots of specifically Scottish references and figures of speech that had me howling. Any book that includes a reference to Jimmy Logan, a John Knox joke, a running gag on Jock Tamson and his bairns, and more than one side-swipe at the Glasgow-Edinburgh rivalry will work for me! But it will also work for non-Scots, because Wojtas lightly provides just enough information to explain the references, so that the jokes still deliver.

Great fun! I hope Wojtas is working hard on the follow-up because I really don’t want to wait too long to meet up with Shona again…

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Saraband.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

42 thoughts on “Miss Blaine’s Prefect and the Golden Samovar by Olga Wojtas

    • I don’t think it matters at all. Really, The Prime is just a starting point she’s used to swirl off in her own direction from. You’d maybe miss two or three jokes, but there are so many you probably wouldn’t even notice them! However, just in general terms, you should definitely read The Prime… 😉

  1. The notion of time traveling librarians hits me where I live. Seems like a must-read. Of course now I’m thinking of The Time Traveler’s Wife because the author worked at a library.

    • Ha! I don’t think The Time Traveler’s Wife had half as much fun as Shona Fergusovna, though! 😉 I’m intrigued to know if she travels to a different place and time next time, or if she’ll go back to Russia…

  2. Oh, this does sound like a lot of fun, FictionFan! I don’t usually go for the time-travel element, but it sounds like it’s done well here. And Shona’s character sounds fabulous (‘That Book’ – Hahaha!). Sometimes when a author goes on a tangent like that, the result is a real success, and that’s what this seems like to me.

    • I’d probably never have gone for this because of the time-travel aspect, but because I knew I was going to read Miss Brodie and because of my current Russia obsession, it was too hard to resist. And proves again that it’s often the least likely books that you enjoy most! 😀

    • I hoped the “You swear?” “Never. I believe it’s the sign of a limited vocabulary.” bit might suck you in. I could be wrong but I think you might enjoy this one… 😀

    • There were a couple that even I learned about – like the origins of some expressions we use all the time. But it’s not so Scottish as to make it hard for non-Scots – great fun! 😀

  3. Having just perused my ever-expanding TBR, I’m feeling a bit crabby! Perhaps that’s why this one doesn’t sound tempting. Maybe if my TBR succeeds at dieting, I’ll reconsider. Excellent review nevertheless!

  4. So glad you had so much fun with this one and it does sound tempting although I suspect some of the Scottish references will pass me by but it sounds as though there will be plenty to make me laugh despite that impediment.

    • The great thing is that she kinda explains the references as she goes, so by the time you’ve read it you’ll be able to impress people with your ability to talk like a Scot… 😉 I’m 99.9% confident you’ll enjoy this one… 😀

  5. Oh this book sounds absolutely wonderful, I think I would really enjoy it. I like when the reader can see things the protagonist doesn’t, it makes it so much more fun and adds a really great layer of humour. I also like when a bunch of people die and no one cares about it…

    • Haha – yes, I like it when I don’t have to care about the murder victims too! 😉 This really is a great one – so funny and well done. I hope she’s working hard on a sequel… 😀

    • Hahaha! Hurrah! I’m going to go on about this one till everybody reads it, so I’m glad you gave in straightaway… 😉 I hope you enjoy it – I’m 99.9% sure you will!

  6. Am not sure if I’d like this or not – though those references to Jimmy Logan and John Knox jokes are intriguing to say the least. I like that description of Dashing White Sergeant – though my recollection of these from School and Scottish weddings makes me wonder if the Dashing White Sergeant ever ends with anything other than catastrophe and chaos!!

    • I thought all the Scottish references in this were fab – so well done and had me howling with laughter! Hahaha – the Dashing White Sergeant is dangerous, I agree, but it pales in comparison to Strip the Willow – a dance that surely ought to be banned under H&S legislation… 😉

    • It is! It was one of those ones that I really didn’t want to finish but just couldn’t slow down to make it last longer. She’d better be writing a sequel… 😉

  7. Oh my! There are occasions where I just sit and scratch my head at where people get their ideas from… And then to discover that they work too! Complete bafflement. Why can’t *I* come up with something like this? (Ok… in Cornwall maybe…) This sounds totally bonkers and I can’t wait to read it. But I shall wait – I shall read The Prime first. I shall…..

    • I know! And where has this author been all her life that she’s suddenly sprung fully formed as a comic genius?? Yes, I’m going to write a brilliant book just as soon as I think of a plot. I’ve been trying to think of one for around half a century now, so it’s bound to come along soon, wouldn’t you say? Both this and The Prime are fab – enjoy them both! 😀

    • Hahaha – isn’t it great? And truly, Scottish country dancing can be lethal to the unwary. 😉 The ‘why’ question is a difficult one to answer in terms of this book – reasons and logic don’t figure highly… 😂

  8. This sounds like wonderful fun! I watched The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie when I was far too young to watch it, really, and I remember being SHOCKED that a teacher would behave like that! I’ve never read the book.

    I also really love Scotland (a good friend married a Glaswegian and moved there, so I get to visit more often than I would otherwise), so the Scottishness of this definitely appeals! Thanks for the review – I never would have heard of it otherwise.

    • I love the film of Miss Jean Brodie, but the book just slightly has the edge for me, as is so often the case. They’re very alike but the film has made a couple of changes that affect the underlying themes a bit, I think…

      Ha! If you know Scots and the Scottish sense of humour, then I think you’re almost certain to love this one! I loved that she didn’t compromise on the Scottishness but still made it perfectly accessible to non-Scots… 😀

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