The Romanov Empress
by C.W. Gortner
Publication Date: July 10, 2018
Hardcover; 448 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
Even from behind the throne, a woman can rule.
Narrated by the mother of Russia’s last tsar, this vivid, historically authentic novel brings to life the courageous story of Maria Feodorovna, one of Imperial Russia’s most compelling women, who witnessed the splendor and tragic downfall of the Romanovs as she fought to save her dynasty in the final years of its long reign.
Barely nineteen, Minnie knows that her station in life as a Danish princess is to leave her family and enter into a royal marriage—as her older sister Alix has done, moving to England to wed Queen Victoria’s eldest son. The winds of fortune bring Minnie to Russia, where she marries the Romanov heir and becomes empress once he ascends the throne. When resistance to her husband’s reign strikes at the heart of her family and the tsar sets out to crush all who oppose him, Minnie—now called Maria—must tread a perilous path of compromise in a country she has come to love.
Her husband’s death leaves their son Nicholas II as the inexperienced ruler of a deeply divided and crumbling empire. Determined to guide him to reforms that will bring Russia into the modern age, Maria faces implacable opposition from Nicholas’s strong-willed wife, Alexandra, whose fervor has lead her into a disturbing relationship with a mystic named Rasputin. As the unstoppable wave of revolution rises anew to engulf Russia, Maria will face her most dangerous challenge and her greatest heartache.
From the opulent palaces of St. Petersburg and the intrigue-laced salons of the aristocracy to the World War I battlefields and the bloodied countryside occupied by the Bolsheviks, C. W. Gortner sweeps us into the anarchic fall of an empire and the complex, bold heart of the woman who tried to save it.
I had learned a little bit about Russia’s monarchy in history class before reading this novel, but class mostly focused on Tsar Nicholas in the early 1900s, and the murder of him with his entire family. This book focuses on Nicholas’ mother and father as they struggled through the uprising of the rebels. This book talks about how she was not even supposed to be married to Sasha, Nicholas’ father, but instead was supposed to marry his younger brother before he died from a random accident. It tells the story of how the dynasty deteriorated and the monarchy ripped themselves apart with mistresses and distrust.
I believe that Maria might have one of the most unique stories of a monarch. SHe wasn’t born rich, but her mother paved the way for her and her siblings to become nobles and marry royals. She knew hard work, as she used to do menial labor around the house with her older sister. She may not have realized it until she was older, but her mother truly saved them from simply becoming normal middle-class or lower-middle class citizens. This abnormal upbringing gave Maria the chance to sympathize with the normal citizens of Russia, and push for things that the Royals would normally overlook.
The character development in this story was incredible, as Maria transforms from a 15-year-old girl who is uninterested in marriage to a capable wife of the Tsar of Russia. It was not an easy road for her, and it was especially difficult when she and her husband had differing child-rearing strategies. Nevertheless, she was determined to keep her family together and keep her country together.
There was a lot of world-building in this novel, as almost every scene was full of description of the castle and the characters. The family tree at the beginning of the book was useful in the beginning, but the deeper I got into the novel, the less I felt the need to constantly turn to it to remember people. Each character took on their own persona in my mind, as the world was filled with different stories and lives of the Russian royals.
Even though the book does spend a good amount of time talking about non-violent drama, there are quite a few gory scenes discussing the horrors that the Royals experienced as the rebels used explosives to try and kill members of the family and military. These were not unwelcome scenes, but it definitely made me feel sad for the children and teens that had to view these signs, yet continue to be strong for their country. It almost felt as if they were never allowed to mourn for the dead citizens, but instead had to move forward and protect themselves.
This is only the tip of the iceberg for the content that this story contains. It has a lifetime full of sadness, joy, and events that it tells in a chronological order. I was completely drawn in and could barely put the story down when I started it. I would definitely recommend this novel for lovers of historical fiction or lovers of an amazing story featuring a strong woman trying to save her family and country.
I received an advance copy of this novel and this is my voluntary review.
Overall Rating: 6 out of 5 stars
Praise for The Romanov Empress
“Gortner’s mesmerizing historical novel (following The Vatican Princess) depicts the remarkable life of the mother of the last Russian tsar. This insightful first-person account of the downfall of the Romanov rule will appeal to history buffs; at its core, it’s the powerful story of a mother trying to save her family and an aristocrat fighting to maintain rule in a country of rebellion, giving it an even broader appeal.” —Publishers Weekly
“A sweeping saga that takes us from the opulence and glamor of Tsarist Russia to the violent, tragic last days of the Romanovs. C. W. Gortner breaks new ground here, skillfully painting an intimate, compelling portrait of this fascinating empress and her family.” —Stephanie Dray, New York Times bestselling author of America’s First Daughter
“The Romanov Empress has all the glitter and mystery of a Faberge egg, the outer decadence and beauty of Imperial Russia unfolding to reveal the mysteries and horrors within. The waning days of a doomed dynasty are recounted by the vivacious but tough Danish princess who would become one of Russia’s most revered tsarinas, only to see her line end in war and revolution. Gortner pens a beautiful tribute to a lost world, weaving a tale sumptuous as a Russian sable.” —Kate Quinn, New York Times bestselling author of The Alice Network
“A vivid, engaging tale of Tsarina Maria Feodorovna, the mother of Russia’s last Tsar, her loves and her heartbreaks, bringing the troubled final decades of the Russian Empire to life.” —Eva Stachniak, author of The Winter Palace
About the Author
C. W. Gortner holds an MFA in writing, with an emphasis on historical studies, from the New College of California. He is the internationally acclaimed and bestselling author of Mademoiselle Chanel, The Queen’s Vow, The Confessions of Catherine de Medici, The Last Queen, The Vatican Princess, and Marlene, among other books. He divides his time between Northern California and Antigua, Guatemala.
Blog Tour Schedule
Wednesday, July 11
Review at Just One More Chapter
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Review at History From a Woman’s Perspective
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Review at What Cathy Read Next
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Review at Two Gals and a Book
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