Cover Image: The Romanov Empress

The Romanov Empress

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

The Romanov Empress ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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, Alexander, and once he ascends the throne, becomes empress. When resistance to his 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 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 led 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.

Probably the best book I’ve read in awhile. Admittedly I was intimidated by the size, it’s a long read, but oh so worth it, to the subject matter, yes we all learned a minimum of the story of Tsar Nicholas and the tragic end to his family in school. But this book goes beyond and behind that. 

This was the first book by this author, and I guarantee not my last. He has a way with his story telling that draws you right in. A very rare 5 ⭐️ star review from me.

I received this ARC for free in exchange for my honest review, along with my apologies for the tardiness of this review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review. Thank you NetGalley, C. W. Gortner and Ballantine Books.
Was this review helpful?
I enjoy Gortner's writing but I couldn't seem to get into this one. I grew tired of Russian history.  But as always Gortner's prose is always on point
Was this review helpful?
I have been wanting to read this book for a long time now, and I just have not gotten around to it.  I finally just picked it up.  I’m glad that I did,  because this story was amazing.  This is definitely one of my top favorite books of 2020.  It's been a while since I’ve anything  By C.W.  Gortner.  This book just makes me want to pick up more from him. 
The Romanov Empress is told from the perspective of Maria Feodorovna , she was the mother of Tsar Nicholas II.  
The story starts when Maria is a young girl and ends with the abdication of her son.  One thing that impressed me about this story was how historically accurate it was.  You can tell  how meticulously research this was.  Gortner even included a bibliography in the back  which I loved because I not only enjoy reading historical fiction,  but nonfiction as well. 
 Another thing that really stood out about this book was writing. I think Gortner really captured Maria so well in this,  though you see other characters,  you are seeing  it from her eyes and perspectives.  Which is probably a good and bad thing. I think that feud that she had with her daughter-in-law was portrayed well in this,  even though you are getting it from Maria Feodorovna  perspective.  You can tell in some scenes when she is not really being fair to Alix,  but then there are some scenes that justify her dislike of her.  
Another thing I liked about this story, is that it gives you an overall view,  as you're reading it,  about how Nicholas II's downfall came about.  I just started learning about the Romanov myself.  So this book was helpful,  even though I know there is no doubt some inaccuracy in it, which Gortner himself pointed out,  which  I really appreciated.  Overall,  I would highly recommend this. Anyone who loves historical fiction, this is the book for you.  I would like to thank  Netgalley and  Radom house for giving me a free Kindle copy of this book.
Was this review helpful?
Disclaimer: I received from the publisher a free e-book via Netgalley in exchange for my honest review.

Historical fiction can be pretty hit and miss for me, but the details in the book and the decision to use the perspective of Nicholas' mother had my heart in tatters. 

I love that this was so well done because I would have been absolutely broken by disappointment otherwise. Definitely worth a spot on your shelf.
Was this review helpful?
I’ve been really into the Romanov family history lately (see reviews of I Was Anastasia and Romanov from the last year and a half), and the concept of this book intrigued mI want to start off by saying that I love how short this synopsis is. It’s very to the point, there’s no flowery character description and it gives absolutely nothing away. More book synopses need to follow this format, honestly.

Aside from that little tidbit, this book was super interesting. Going into it, I obviously had very little to go off, and I always enjoy having no knowledge going into a historical fiction story. I know that the events are obviously fictionalized and not everything that happens is true, but I love learning something new from historical fiction like I did here. In all the time that I have read or watched Romanov stories, I never thought about Tsar Nicholas’ mother once. It’s always been about his immediate family (i.e. wife and children) who all die with him in the end, but this story follows his mother who survives and has an outside perspective during all of the events that led to the assassination. We see how Maria tried to guide her son to decisions that may have saved his life, tension between her and her son’s English wife and all the experience that she had as the widow of Tsar Alexander.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading deeper into the Romanov history, and I appreciate that Gortner took this angle rather than the more popular focus on Anastasia that has been so frequently used lately. Again, I highly recommend that anyone interested in Russian history reads this novel, and let me know what you think if you already have!e because it wasn’t about Anastasia. I was very interested in following someone outside of the immediate family who were assassinated during the Russian Revolution. The perspective of Tsar Nicholas’ mother was a completely different view of the events, and of course, there was some more backstory that I had never read about before since this story starts before the famous Tsar was even born. I will keep this review fairly short and spoiler-free below because I would definitely recommend that fans of historical fiction read this book for themselves!
Was this review helpful?
Through the point of view of Maria Feodorovna—born Princess Dagmar of Denmark, who by marriage to tsarevich Alexander Alexandrovich, first became tsarevna, then Empress of Russia, and ultimately Dowager Empress upon her husband’s death—the last fifty-seven years of the Russian Empire, and Europe by extension, come into focus.

The Romanov Empress is impeccably researched. The splendor, opulence, and decadence of the last three Romanov courts come alive gloriously, as do the strong Romanov personalities with their rivalries, their indiscretions, and personal and public losses. I came away from this reading with a better understanding of the personalities involved and the events big and small that led to Tsar Alexander II’s regicide, the political purges that followed, the eventual installation of the Duma in 1905, and the fall of the Romanov dynasty during the Revolution of February, 1917 under Nicholas II’s reign.

I liked Maria’s “Mimi” voice. Despite being born a princess, she came from relatively humble beginnings because her family was, for most of their lives, minor nobility, which shaped her vision of the world. Maria Feodorovna—name that she took upon conversion to the Russian Orthodox faith before her marriage—was a resourceful and intelligent woman who knew how to adapt well to her adoptive empire; she navigated well the intricacies of daily court life, and balanced a lavish lifestyle with social and political savvy. She understood that different times require different manners of ruling, for her father-in-law’s reign differed significantly from her and her husband’s, as did her son’s, compared to the rulers that preceded him. I would say that Maria Feodorovna is one of the most fascinating royals I have read about. 

I liked tsarevich Alexander “Sasha”, then tsar Alexander III. He had a strong personality and did good by his people, despite reigning with an iron fist as result of the turbulent times inherited from his father’s reign. Despite being intransigent as a ruler, he was a devoted husband and father.

I did not like how weak and indolent Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra came across. It seemed not only that they were out of touch, but Alexandra’s influence on Nicholas, with and without Rasputin’s help, no doubt led to the collapse of the dynasty. I get that she was afraid of losing her carefully constructed house of cards if she lost her son to his illness, but she was so out of touch with her people that, tragic as it was, one cannot help but feel that their ending was inevitable.

All in all, the Romanov Empress is a fascinating and compelling account of the last three Romanov tsars and their times. I will be reading more from this author in the future.

Disclaimer: I received from the publisher a free e-book via Netgalley in exchange for my honest review.
Was this review helpful?
This book transported to the time of Imperial Russia! I loved this book and I loved seeing the revolution play out through the mother of Tsar Nicolas. I couldn't put it down until I reached the end!
Was this review helpful?
This is a great historical fiction read! The ambiance is provided by the glittering court of Tsarisk Russia. At the same time, its a coming of age story, love story, and a story of a royal family.  Lovely story, perfect for fans of historical fiction looking for a new read after Phillipa Gregory.
Was this review helpful?
While I know C.W. Gortner has been writing historical fiction for years, I surprisingly have never read any of his work. I devour historical fiction and hence the surprising part. I chose to read this book because I have always been hugely fascinated by the subject of Czar Nicholas II and his family. To read the story of his mother and learn more of his family seemed perfectly fitting to my interests. I had no idea what a story I was in for. Oh my. Maria or Minnie, as I feel she should be called, was a woman that Alexandra would never have been ready for. I feel as if I received a history lesson that was much needed. I had so many little puzzles on the genealogical tree of England, Russia and so forth put into place (Oh, that's why George V and Nicholas II looked identical; their mothers were sisters!). It was fantastic in that regard. I feel Gortner did a phenomenal job giving Minnie a voice in so many moments. Particularly when it came to her family and making difficult decisions, it would have been so easy to make her wooden or aristocratic, but Gortner made her human. The scene where she watched Nicholas leave on the train going back to his family stuck with me for a couple of days specifically. I think I need to go find some more books by Gortner.
Was this review helpful?
Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres, but the Romanovs are not a subject that I've read much about. This was an intriguing look at the family, particularly Maria. Her story is fascinating and this book definitely makes me want to read more about them. Very well written!
Thanks Net Galley for the ARC!
Was this review helpful?
Well I quite enjoyed this book. After reading some of the scathing reviews, I'll attempt to formulate a coherent reason as to why. 

Many of those reviews point out that the history is faulty and there seems to be a lack of research. 

I can't speak to the historical accuracy but I certainly had the impression while reading that the author had done due diligence in research. At the same time, I read it as fiction. So much of what happens in the book takes place in private and while the author can make educated guesses to thoughts, motivations and conversations, accuracy may not be entirely possible. I have no idea what private papers are available which led me to read the book with a 'here's a good guess' point of view. Do I walk away with the impression that every moment is historical fact? No. But I do walk away with a sense that the author depicted the dynamics and personalities and events in a reasonably logical way. 

One review I read mentioned an excessive talk about jewels as being a negative; there was a lot of talk about jewels throughout the book. I personally love to look at royal jewels and will admit to grabbing my phone to google jewels and palaces as they were mentioned. The point the reader made was that they were so wrapped up in fashion and jewels that they were oblivious to the plight of the peasants. My interpretation of her point was that all the talk in the book was frivolous and didn't speak to the sufferings at that point in time, almost as if that needed more focus in the book. My perspective is that this absolutely shows how out of touch the aristocracy in general and the imperial family specifically were. Even with some of the family's desire to improve life for the common people and their charity work, they still had an attitude of elevated status that should render them revered and untouchable. While Marie knows that her daughter-in-law will push the people away, she fails to realize how much their family will come to be despised. Even when she references that they have much to lose, I don't believe she ever imagined that they would lose the throne, their fortune and the love of the people. 

It is no easy task to cover such a wide span of history marked with major turbulent events. And yet, Gortner did so.
Was this review helpful?
Best Russian historical fiction book I have ever read. Really brings to life that time period. This book should be included as a must read in school.
Was this review helpful?
I love learning about the Russian tsars, so I was really excited to be approved for this book on the mother of the last Romanov tsar. From my knowledge, it was very factual, but still entertaining enough to want to read.
Was this review helpful?
After reading the Winternight trilogy, I found myself still in the mood for majesty of Mother Russia and picked up C.W. Gortner's The Romanov Empress from my reading pile. I loved it! It's a sweeping tale covering the life and experiences of the last tsarina of Russia, Maria Feodorovna. The beautiful thing about historical fiction for me, and why I've always loved it, is how it breathes life into stories we already know. After all, I studied this period EXTENSIVELY in university (Do my capitalizing the letters indicate the sleep I lost thanks to those studies?) and yet the tsarina came alive to me in a whole new way. I knew the highlights of her life thanks to the historical record and writings of the time but Gortner showed me someone completely new: Minnie, a feisty daughter of Denmark and not a princess in more ways than one. 

This novel is so personal and intimate despite the vast amount of information in it. The prose is written in the language of the time without being stuffy which allows for great immersion while reading. Gortner is masterful at handling the complexities of royal bloodlines, turn-of-the-century Russian culture/society, and rapidly changing political attitudes while presenting a very human story of a woman trying to ensure her family's health and happiness and to live up to what's expected of her.

It's a fascinating period to look at in historical fiction and that period adds a great tension to the whole story. Minnie's generation is the last of European royalty to enjoy the privilege they had for centuries. Queen Victoria of England was settling  her children and grandchildren across the Continent, ensuring that the world wars would later split her progeny in more ways than one, but nowhere were royals more revered than Russia at the time. I loved seeing Minnie step up to the role, and her dissatisfaction with Alexandra (her first daughter-in-law and future tsarina) for not doing the same. The world is such a different place by the end of the book as nearly most of all the monarchies of Europe have either been replaced or strongly curtailed post-WWI. 

Minnie as a character is great and I connected with her immediately. She's fierce, determined, and inexhaustible but she cares deeply about those around her, even if it causes her great pain at times. However, Gortner gave us a well-rounded woman in Minnie because her flaws are as clearly evident as her virtues. She can also be dangerously stubborn, very vain, unforgiving, and harsh. Her relationship with her children shows this dictonmy clearly: she adores them and dotes them but also has extremely exacting standards. Despite her approving of more freedom in political/social policies like those of her father-in-law, she's quite old-fashioned and doesn't like change. There's a huge cast of wonderful secondary characters as well, much too many to mention here. And yes, there are quite a few names but what do you expect from a history-based novel where the protagonist is related to almost every European ruling house? That being said, it's not hard to keep the characters straight thanks to the author's deft hand. 

Watching her relationship with Sasha develop and change was a real treat for me because Tsar Alexander III is a very imposing figure in history (Look up his picture and tell me he isn't!) but the way he loved her was so beautiful. So often with historical fiction a female protagonist is stuffed into an "outsider" role where she's doing things no woman's done before, particularly now as female heroines become more of a standard, but Minnie controls her world within the rules of the time. It may seem silly to point that out as a plus but I think it's neat to show someone work within the confines forced on them and still get what they want. 

Not that Minnie gets what she wants. If you know the ending to the Romanov family story, you know there's no way for this book to end happily. It's bittersweet, much more bitter than sweet, but that's how it goes in historical fiction: no matter how much you love the protagonist, you can't change what actually happened. But, despite my knowing all the deaths and destruction in her life, I greatly enjoyed this book and consider it to be one of the BEST historical fiction novels covering Russian royalty. If you like this one, I'd also recommend "I Was Anastasia" by Ariel Lawhon which touches on later bits of this period. As for me, I'm going to go check out more of Gortner's work because, if they're half as good as this one, I'm missing out!


Note: I received a free Kindle edition of this book via NetGalley in exchange for the honest review above. I would like to thank NetGalley, the publisher Ballantine Books, and the author C.W. Gortner for the opportunity to do so.
Was this review helpful?
I had a hard time with this book.  I really wanted to love it and all the reviews that I have seen have been positive, however, I just felt I got lost in the wording and would find myself drifting off and not following the story.  I felt it could have quite a bit shorter.  I truly wanted to love it, but I just think I was the minority in that I didn't.
Was this review helpful?
I've read most of the novels by CW Gortner, and I have yet to be disappointed. The author obviously does an amazing amount of research, and puts their heart and soul completely into writing their novels. As a reader, you definitely feel as though you are inside the character's minds, and that you are able to see and feel what they do. He is definitely one of my top five favorite authors of historical fiction, and I have read hundreds of historical fiction novels!
This is the first historical fiction novel that I have read about the Romanov's. I knew the story of the family being executed, and of course I knew of the different stories of Anastasia. However, I never had the interest in buying a novel dealing with their family. I prefer historical fiction that takes place in England, France, Scotland, etc., and I usually read novels that take place 100 or more years prior to the Romanov's. I decided to read this novel purely because of who the author is, and now I have a new perspective on what was happening during this time period, and I am looking for more novels dealing with the Romanov family members. I love that this novel focused on the mother of Tsar Nicholas II, Russia's last Tsar, rather than on his wife and children. When you hear of the Romanov's, you usually think of Tsar Nicholas II, his wife Alexandra, the daughter Anastasia, the hemophilic son Nikolai, and of course, Rasputin. It was nice to read his mother, Maria Feodorovna's (Minnie) story, as well as her point of view of what happened leading up to the execution of the Tsar and his family. It really helped me to understand what was going on politically at the time, and how the Romanov's really had a huge role in their own downfall. I found myself despising Nicholas II's wife, Alexandra, because of how well the author's writing is. He really makes you feel the anger, frustration, and sadness that Maria is going through while trying to help her son to see what is really going on in his country, and to basically put his wife in her place before it is too late. Unfortunately, it was too late for them. I don't know enough about the situation to know whether Alexandra held as much blame for the downfall as the author places on her, but it definitely was an interesting viewpoint to read about.
I will definitely be looking for more novels to read about the Romanov family. I'm hooked after reading this novel. I 100% recommend this novel, as well as any of CW Gortner's other books. He is truly a fantastic historical fiction author, and I look forward to more from him!!
Was this review helpful?
The drawback for me was the short chapters that chopped up the story into the different characters views. It definitely took away from the main character. One minute we are learning about Maria the next chapter it might jump to her sister in law or her brother in Greece. I did not feel this book really told her story. It felt cobbled together and read more like a novella I found that to be annoying. The book read more like a novella of Maria's family instead of an accounting of her story.
Was this review helpful?
Such an amazing book about this Empress. Mother of Czar Nicholas II and grandmother to the 4 Grand Duchesses. she was amazing.
Was this review helpful?
A book by Christopher W. Gortner is always a treat! You don't have to read the inside cover of the back of the book! You're going to be very happy with anything you read by this author!
I received an ARC of this book from Netgalley.Thank you so much for allowing me to read and review this book!
All opinions are my own.
Was this review helpful?
I have found myself to recently become quite fascinated with the Romanov’s and Anastasia so I am very grateful to Netgalley and the publishers for sharing with me a copy of ‘The Romanov Empress’ in exchange for an honest review. 
I found ‘The Romanov Empress’ to be very interesting, following the life of Tsarina Maria Feodorovna, grandmother of Anastasia. This was an enjoyable and instructive historical fiction which enriched my knowledge of the Romanov history. This story follows Maria’s from teenage years through most of her life, but do not expect an Anastasia tale as she plays a very minor role in the latter part of the novel. I found ‘The Romanov Empress’ to be well written and researched and enjoyed it thoroughly.
Was this review helpful?