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  • Writer's pictureellenlaubhan

The Empress' Gift: The Volga Frontier


In 1763, Empress Catherine the Great issued a compelling manifesto recruiting European emigrants to tame the wilderness along Russia’s mighty Volga River. Powerful motives drive Lady Amila and two serfs—siblings Rein and Eva—to forge an unlikely alliance and join the first German emigrants. A soul selling recruiter touting Empress Catherine’s offer makes bold promises of freedom, and the trio escape the ruthless Count Tundorf, who has devastating plans for their lives if they remain.


Soon, the naïve trio and fellow colonists learn the true intent of the Empress’ Gift. A perilous, adventure-filled year of travel—by horseback, ship, wagon train, and finally by barge down the Volga River—brings the first colony of settlers to Dobrinka, their frontier home.


Sparks fly as the intense drama unfolds. Wavering between privilege and pioneer life, Amila agonizes about her place in the world. Resentful of all nobility and suspicious of the Empress’ promises, Rein clashes with Amila at every turn, but their collaboration is critical to the colony’s survival. Ultimately, Amila reveals to Rein the horrible secret she’s been keeping. Tension and attraction between the two escalate into a powerful love story.


On the Volga Steppe, the Dobrinka colonists learn to see enemies everywhere, in everything, drawing upon keen instincts and rapidly developing new skills to fight powerful enemies determined to see them fail. To succeed, the colonists must outwit marauding forest thieves, face nomadic raiders, and stay one step ahead of a corrupt Russian bureaucracy—all while battling merciless forces of nature. The greatest threat is Count Tundorf, who has followed Amila, and plans to sabotage the Russian emigration program that is devastating the Germany’s serf-dependent estates. Yet, equally daunting for Amila and Rein are struggles that come from within.


Told by multiple characters and supported by a vivid cast, the thoroughly-researched novel chronicles the unflinching resolve of pioneers seeking freedom from oppression for themselves and future generations. Debut author Ellen Laubhan draws from her ancestral roots to tell the story, which will appeal to millions of Volga German descendants living in the United States, as well as fans of authentic historical fiction worldwide.


Book Excerpt:

Fall 1763, St. Petersburg, Russia

“Lady Amila studied the beaming faces of her fellow colonists gazing transfixed as Empress Catherine addressed the first emigrants. Swathed in hope and bound by the belief that a better life beckoned, they listened, mesmerized by the queen’s every word. Then, with a raise of the empress’ hand, servants opened baskets and threw handfuls of rubles over the emigrants’ heads. As the paper currency rained down, the astonished colonists hurried to collect their share. Roars of gratitude shattered the silence. Standing apart, Amila reeled as the disturbance sent birds careening from the nearby trees.”

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