The Romanov Empress

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 10 Aug 2018

Member Reviews

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!
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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The best historical fiction inspires you to deep dive into a period of extreme research and extra reading...and this has done just that.  Well written and compelling to read, this book follows the life of a Danish princess who marries the heir to the Russian Tsar and becomes Empress Maria, mother of Nicholas who is the last of the Russian monarchs.  I found this absolutely fascinating and though I've never had an interest in Russian history before, I have now a couple of nonfiction books on the Romanov's waiting to be read.  I received a digital ARC of this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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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.
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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!!
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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.
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Such an amazing book about this Empress. Mother of Czar Nicholas II and grandmother to the 4 Grand Duchesses. she was amazing.
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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.
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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.
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I love Russian history, particularly from early 20th century, AND I love historical fiction, so this novel was perfect for me. It focused on the end of the Romanov dynasty and the build up to the Bolshevik Revolution, but from the perspective of Czar Nicholas II mother. Highly recommended.
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While the detail in The Romanov Empress is beautiful, the story simply moved far too slowly to hold my attention. Typically, a slow-moving story doesn't deter me, but the characters failed to capture my interest enough to continue to the end. Thank you for the opportunity to read and review this book.
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This was a fabulous book. Gripping and heart-wrenching, Gortner has a very good voice for the last Dowager Empress of Imperial Russia. While this is a work of fiction, it has answered some questions that I have had about the reign of Nicholas II.
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I enjoyed it overall.  But I found the narrator to be a bit fatiguing;  Her relentless defense of a corrupt regime made sense in context, but it made me impatient with her.
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VERDICT: Powerful historical fiction presentation of Maria Feodorovna, her family, and all of Russia’s and Europe’s history during her long life.
The book offers a huge historical fresco, starting in the Yellow Palace Copenhagen, before Marie Sophie’s (Princess Dagmar) engagement to Nixa in 1864, so when the tsar was Alexander II. And her sister Alix is promised to Queen Victoria’s son. The story of Maria’s marriage is like fiction. Sometimes, reality can be as nightmarish as fiction…
I enjoyed all the details about the cultural differences between Denmark and Russia, seen through the eyes of the young heroine.
The network of connections between all the European families is well explained, showing that marriage was most of the time not a question of love between two persons, but for political and strategic alliances between countries. Though it could eventually grow into love.
Maria Feodorovna managed to escape when the tsar’s family was butchered, and she lived old, so the book was a good overview of Russia’s history during its last 3 tsars and of the European political scene during all that period. Therefore, we see the Nihilists, the Bolsheviks, the beginning of Lenin. At times, I actually found it a bit too long, but I guess it had to be this way, seeing Maria’s long life (1847-1928).
As usual, Gortner excels at telling history through the eyes and experience of women.
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First sentence: "We should dress alike," I said on that afternoon when life changed forever. I didn't yet understand how profound the change would be, but I could feel it as I sat riffling through the heap of boxes sent by Copenhagen's and London's finest emporiums, packed with satin-bowed shoes and beribboned hats, silk undergarments, dresses, corsets, shawls, leather gloves, and cloaks made of fine cashmere or Scottish wool.

Premise/plot: The narrator of this one is Maria Feodorovna (aka Minnie, aka Princess Dagmar of Denmark, aka Empress of Russia). Her husband was Emperor Alexander III. Her son was Emperor Nicholas II--the last tsar of Russia. She was a daughter, sister, princess, wife, mother, widow, mother-in-law, grandmother, empress, and dowager empress. The novel is written in first person--for better or worse. And this one spans decades.

My thoughts: I wanted to love this one. I wanted to be swept up, up, and away into this historical novel featuring several royal families. I wanted to find the narrative captivating, fascinating, intriguing, compelling--anything and everything but dull. To be honest, the book isn't dull so much as it is un-exciting.

I felt several degrees removed from all the action, from all the drama. Perhaps the narrative was supposed to reflect the poise, the dignity, the restraint, the respectability, the polish of the Empress? Perhaps the purpose was to focus solely on the interior thought life of a woman and not really get into the ACTION and DRAMA of the times in which she lived? I'm not sure.

It was interesting to read a book about the Romanovs from the perspective of a survivor. It didn't make the book less sad, less tragic. It was her son. It was her grandchildren. Obviously most--if not all--of her concern was towards their safety and not her own. She wasn't worried about herself--but them. How could they be saved? How could they be rescued? How could they be smuggled out of the country? She was out of touch--for the most part except for a few smuggled letters--with the people she loved most in the world. Their lives were in danger and she knew it. She lived with it. The last section of the book was the most intense. It almost made up for the dullness of the other five sections.

I would definitely read a nonfiction biography about her. I think her story probably is worth reading. But perhaps fiction wasn't the way to go--for me.
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I am a bit obsessed at the moment with Russian history, and this book foreshadowing the doom that was to befall the Romanov dynasty did not disappoint. Told from the point of view of Russia's last great Tzarina, Maria Feodorovna. Dagmar is a Danish princess. At the beginning of the book, she is nearly 16 years of age, and under the shadow of her older sister, who is about to marry into English Royalty. Dagmar eventually becomes Maria, and along with her new name, new religion, and adopted country, integrates herself and becomes a well respected figure in the Russian Imperial Family. Maria's headstrong nature and honor helped maintain the Romanov family's strong popularity in the 1800's, but it could not prevent its eventually downfall, the pull of Rasputin, and the political unrest. The characters, scenery, and events were rich with detail, but never dry. The dialogue felt true to the time period. This book is a real treat for fans of historical fiction, and in particular, of learning about the Romanov dynasty and its demise. Thank you NetGalley for this ARC.
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I loved this book! Highly recommend. I've always been very interested in the Romanovs -- this was a fresh take on something I've read so much about. I appreciate NetGalley for helping me get a copy of this.
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