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The Romanov Empress: A Novel of Tsarina Maria Feodorovna

Review

The Romanov Empress: A Novel of Tsarina Maria Feodorovna

From the first page of C. W. Gortner’s latest novel, the narrative is permeated by loss. The story of Russia’s last great empress consort --- Maria Feodorovna, née Princess Dagmar of Denmark, better known to her family as “Minnie” --- begins with an emotional injury. It descends into the infamous tragedy that befell the imperial family. But THE ROMANOV EMPRESS isn’t a sob-fest; rather, it’s a lush character study of Maria Feodorovna and the fatally flawed life she cherishes to her dying breath.

As the book opens, Minnie is mourning the upcoming departure of her beloved elder sister, Alix, to England, where she will wed Queen Victoria’s eldest son, the rakish Prince of Wales. After all, how can Alix love a man she barely knows? Newly elevated to the rank of Denmark’s crown prince, her father has thrust their heretofore impoverished family into an unprecedented spotlight. Minnie resents the seemingly endless changes going on around her.

"Gortner has constructed a masterful portrait of imperial Russia... [T]hese entertaining characters...all create a sense of a closely knit, if often-at-odds, clan."

Minnie and Alix’s relationship is one of the most important bonds underlying the future empress’s story, but the headstrong princess soon finds herself in Alix’s own position. Just as soon as she’s resolved not to marry a near-stranger, she falls head over heels for the heir to the Russian imperial throne, Tsarevich Nicholas (called “Nixa”).

Gortner tightly weaves international contradictions into the foundations of Minnie’s character, making this impetuous royal a realistic character. And when Nixa’s premature death thrusts Minnie into an unwanted betrothal to her late fiancé’s brother, the hulking future Tsar Alexander III, she must reckon with the twin threats of a seemingly loveless marriage and the terrifyingly strange Romanov court.

Although the reader knows how Minnie’s story will end --- or perhaps because of it --- Gortner lavishes just as much attention on the emotional highs of his heroine’s life as the eventual agonies. Get the tissues ready --- the slow downfall of the Romanovs, as Minnie sees everything and everyone she loves slipping through her fingers, is sure to wrest a tear from even the driest eye. And despite all her flaws, we weep and rejoice alongside Minnie as she puts her life on the line to hold on to a world crumbling into decline.

Gortner has constructed a masterful portrait of imperial Russia, even if those not familiar with the Romanov dynasty might find themselves confused by the unending legion of grand dukes and grand duchesses whose names are scattered throughout the pages. But these entertaining characters --- in particular Miechen, better known as Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna, Minnie’s sister-in-law and frenemy --- all create a sense of a closely knit, if often-at-odds, clan. No loss is singular; individual tragedies rock the whole family unit, one that is doomed to fail oh-so-beautifully.

Reviewed by Carly Silver on July 13, 2018

The Romanov Empress: A Novel of Tsarina Maria Feodorovna
by C. W. Gortner

  • Publication Date: July 10, 2018
  • Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books
  • ISBN-10: 0425286169
  • ISBN-13: 9780425286166