The Romanov Empress

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 10 Aug 2018

Member Reviews

Fantastic! Nicholas II and his family will always be one of history’s greatest tragedies. Revolutions don’t come about from one event, they come from many, many years of strife. It was interesting seeing these events unfold through Minnie’s eyes. She was a formidable woman that was as devoted to Russia as she was her family. Gortner is a fantastic writer that puts life into his characters and enables history to come alive for his readers. Highly recommend.
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WOW!!!!  I have read numerous books about the Romanov's over the years and this one I could not put down..  This was a fascinating view of the Romanov's from Tsarina Maria Feodorovna .  The Romanov reign was never smooth but somehow I missed the unrest that Alexandra Feodorovna caused and the last of support from Queen Victoria and Tsarina Maria Feodorovna.
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Fantastic historical book ❤ I can't recommend it enough. Told in third person, it details the life of a Yong woman married into the Romanov dynasty. Going through years, loves, relationships, families, its so richly detailed and outlined that you find yourself falling into history. Excellent read - wonderful described characters and places, I can't recommend this book enough. #theromanovempress #netgalley

*I would like to thank the author/publisher/Netgalley for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for a fair and honest review*
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5 tragic stars

Over the last week or so, I have been so very fortunate to have read two fantastic historical fiction novels, one about Patsy Jefferson and now this wonderful novel about the Russian Empress, Maria Fedorovna.

Maria Feodorovna (Dagmar of Denmark) was a Danish princess. Her parents were of royal blood yet somewhat impoverished. Through the lines of succession, Dagmar's father became the king of Denmark and his children went on to be married to various rulers or to lead various European countries. Dagmar was originally betrothed to Nicholas who was the heir to the Russian throne. Tragically, he died of meningitis and supposedly had begged that Dagmar marry his younger brother, Alexander, who would eventually become Alexander III the tsar of Russia. She did and became the Empress of Russia. She and Alexander had four sons and two daughters. One of her sons, Nicholas, would ascend the throne and become Nicholas ll. He would marry Alexandria and they would have five children. In 1917, with the advent of the Russian Revolution, Nicholas and his family were held and eventually murdered by the revolutionaries. Maria, went onto live to the age of eighty outliving four of her children.

Mr Gortner has written a book about Maria that was both riveting and engrossing. He made Maria become quite real in both her regency, and her life as a wife, a mother, and a grandmother. He portrayed the glory, the fabulous riches, and the majesty of the time when the tsars ruled. They had it all, a divine right to who and what they were, many times forgetting the people they ruled and the dreadful lives many of them were forced to lead. Maria's life was one of entitlement and yet she too, was a tragic figure. She is shown to have an iron will and to be concerned for her subjects. However, hard as she tried to make both her husband and later her son aware of the need for the people to have a voice in their government, she did not succeed. She lived gloriously, jewels, clothes, travel, all was at her very fingertips. She would go on to lose it all as revolution swept the nation, and Maria lost not only her wealth and status, but also her children and grandchildren. In the end, it was a story of sadness. One can certainly have it all and then lose everything.

The author made Maria real. He brought out the many conflicts she had in her life, the tragedies that followed her starting with the loss of her betrothed Nicholas, to the death of her husband Alexander, the death of two of her children, to that of her exile and death of her son and daughter in law and their five children. He includes in his telling the effect that Rasputin had on the royal family and the various heads of state and their familial relationships.

I can't recommend this book more highly to those who so relish historical fiction novels. Truly this was a book that was able to make the reader know the real characters so very well and feel their triumphs, their joys, but mostly their sorrows. "If I have given my all, and still do not win, I haven't lost. Others might remember winning or losing, but I remember the journey." (Apolo Ohno) For Maria, herself, had the journey of a lifetime.

Thank you to C.W. Gortner, Random House Publishing, and NetGalley for a copy of this fantastic story of a woman who had ultimate power and grace.
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Princess Dagmar of Denmark or Minnie is a daughter to Denmark's King Christian IX and sister to Alexandra, who would marry Edward VII and become Queen of the United Kingdom.  Minnie knows she too must marry and would rather marry for love.  When she meets Nicholas Alexandrovich,  or Nixa, the Tsarevich of Russia, Minnie is taken.  However, as fate would have it, Minnie marries Nixa's brother,  Sasha, Tsesarevich Alexander of Russia, and eventually becomes Grand Duchess Maria Feodorovna of Russia.  Minnie must adjust to Russia, a new religion and rules of royalty.  Minnie exceeds in her role and is a driving force within the Russian government.  Although, times are changing in Russia and things become dangerous for Minnie and her family.  Minnie sees that the government also needs to change.  When her beloved Sasha passes, Minnie's son, Nicholas becomes Tsar.  Nicholas' wife, Alexandra is not as diplomatic as Minnie and finds herself in a war of wills with Minnie.  As actual war finds its way to Russia's door, Nicholas heeds his wife's opinion and that of her mystic Rasputin over Minnie's and brings the downfall of the Russian empire with him.

With historically accurate detail,  The Romanov Empress gives an  in-depth and entertaining look at the amazing woman behind the storied last Tsar of Russia.  Told from Minnie's point of view from the time she was a teenager through her son's death, we get a full view of her life.  I went into this book not knowing much at all about this time in Russia's history and I was very pleased that I was able to learn about Russia through her eyes.  As Minnie came to love Russia, she saw the faults as well as its amazing features.  Minnie wanted Russia to grow, change and survive, but as a woman she could only offer so much guidance to the men in her life.  I enjoyed seeing how Minnie was able to affect change in the government, even if the men did not always listen.  I also took to heart her and her sister, Alix's motto of living to the next day: "You will live,...You can do nothing else." It was  very insightful to see Minnie's relationship with her son Nicholas and his wife Alexandra especially when Rasputin came into the picture.  I did not know the breadth of Rasputin's influence on Russia at the time and his relationship with Alexandra and her children.  Maria's story brings us through the fabled deaths of her son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren.  While I knew of this story, I was unaware of the reasons behind it and the political climate of Russia at the time.  Overall, an astounding and epic tale of Tsarina Maria Feodorovna.

This book was received for free in return for an honest review.
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Growing up in Denmark as an impoverished royal Minnie never expects to rule. But her father suddenly becomes King and her life is never the same.Not only is she now a Princess but she is expected to make a royal match. She finds herself married to the heir to the Russian throne and has to make her way in the Russian court. This story follows her from a young bride learning to navigate court to the Dowager Empress in exile. A story of a little known woman who was part of many events that shaped history.
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Great historical fiction.  Gives some insight into the world of Kings and Queens.  Also timely look at Russia history.
Excellent book for discussion and application to situations in todays world around rich vs. common man.
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I really enjoy this author's work. I have read a few and there are more I want to read. This one landed on my lap and I've been drooling over this book for weeks. I wanted to wait until after or near its publication. 

The story follows Minnie/Maria who is Tsar Nicholas' mother. We all know the tale of the fall of Nicholas, his family, and Imperial Russia. However, how many people can they really know his mother? I know I know very little of this force of nature. In this tale, we get to see her young, newly married, become the empress, become a mother, and see her lose everything. So sad, so very sad. I cannot imagine seeing everything fall away and never really, truly knowing what happened to part of your family. She lost so many of her family members during the fall of the monarchy. 

If only those stubborn men had listened to her!! That darn Russian pride was the downfall. If they had listened to her and followed through on her father-in-law's plan to follow in England's footsteps ALL OF THIS COULD HAVE BEEN AVOIDED. But no. The stubbornness of males caused so many needless deaths. They could have avoided the fall of a great country. 

The story was told wonderfully. I enjoyed every moment. There were a couple of slow moments, but they did not last long. Maria had very time to rest. Lots to do especially with all those kids and constant issues popping up. 

Yes, she was a stubborn woman and could be harsh, but I was on her side pretty much for everything especially Nicholas' wife. Yes, let Nicky marry her...but I really feel that Alexandra was a huge factor in the fall of the monarchy especially with her fascination with that man. 

I liked Sasha too, but in the end, he was a stubborn male who didn't realize the people give power NOT god. England learned this and some other countries did too THUS why their royalty got to keep their place. A pity indeed. 

The ending was so sad, of course. I did get some tears especially thinking how monstrous revolutionaries can be. THE CHILDREN! They did nothing. UGH!!!!! So sad. My heart broke for Maria. She lost everything and pretty much everyone; such a tragic story. I loved it though. This was real and I felt the author really brought the characters to life. Splendid, indeed. 

In the end, this is a must-read for anyone who likes historical fictions. Heck. For anyone who likes a good people story. The author is such a good storyteller and knows how to bring historical people to life! Just note...there is no HEA in this one. Very sad. I'll stamp this with 5 stars. :3
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An absolutely amazing book!  Over the years the Romanovs have been written about extensively, if not obsessively. Mostly on the reign of Nicholas II and Alexandra-the opulent lifestyle, the scandals, and their horrific ending. However, Gortner has written in the voice of Minnie, Princess Dagmar of Denmark, and the mother of the last Russian tsar, Nicholas II. He begins her story in 1862, when Minnie is 15, and the family's fortune have dramatically and suddenly changed. This is a sweeping story, covering 56 years, broken into six parts, and truly breathtaking form. Gortner's ability to write in a woman's voice is incredible, and, in my opinion, rarely done well. This is Historical Fiction at its finest; almost 450 pages of a well researched, beautifully written account of Empress Maria Feodorovna. Five Stars.
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5 huge stars to The Romanov Empress! 

Historical fiction fans will not want to miss C.W. Gortner’s latest novel! I would also offer, if you enjoy perfect storytelling involving an enthralling and strong woman, this book is also for you. 

The Romanov Empress is narrated by the mother of Russia’s last tsar. Maria (formerly “Minnie”) Feodorovna is born a Danish princess; however, while her family has rank due to title, it is low on funds. Her story begins when she is a teen, and her sister, Alix, is about to marry the Prince of Wales, son of Queen Victoria. I find Queen Victoria especially fascinating, so it was intriguing to hear about her from Maria’s point-of-view. 

Maria also is set for a royal marriage to keep her family’s status, and while it is not an easy or simple journey, especially for her heart, she marries the Romanov heir who later takes the throne. The descriptions of the setting as she arrives in St. Petersburg were absolutely mesmerizing. 

Later Maria’s husband dies, and her son, Nicholas, is now the ruler of a disintegrating empire that is struggling in every way. She attempts to guide her son, but her efforts are futile with Nicholas’ wife and Rasputin having the emperor’s ear. 

The Romanov Empress is epic in its scope, and the writing is exquisite, while also being highly readable. The rich setting is replete with opulence and grandeur balanced with war and extreme turmoil. I savored this reading experience, and Maria is a memorable and inspiring historical figure who falls in love with Russia and does her best to honor and uphold it. It is a story of family, sacrifice, strength, and ultimately, love.
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First novel I've read surrounding Russia's imperial rulers, and it did not disappoint.  Similar to Phillipa Gregory's novels around England's throne, this novel enlightens the reader, in historical fiction to the inner workings of the Russian thrones pre World War 1, and then the fall of imperial Russia.
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Rating:  4.5 stars rounded down to 4 stars

This book was riveting!  I knew a proverbial car crash was eminent, but I couldn’t look away.  Much has been written about the ill-fated Tsar Nicholas II, his wife Tsarina Alexandra; and the mystery surrounding their deaths and the deaths of their five children in 1918 during the Bolshevik years Russia.  I suspect that many readers are probably at least slightly familiar with this generation of the Imperial Russian Romanov dynasty.   In ‘The Romanov Empress’, C.W. Gortner has taken us back two generations from their deaths, and explained how they ended up where they did.  He has told us the story of how the last couple of pre-revolutionary (pre 1917) generations of Romanov’s lived and ruled and how things might have turned out differently if different choices had been made at any one of multiple places along the way.

The book’s primary character is Maria Feodorovna who is Nicholas II’s mother.  She was named Dagmar and was born into a penniless European duchy in 1847.  Her father unexpectedly inherited the role of King of Denmark, at which point she became known as Princess Dagmar of Denmark.   Her older sister Alexandra (Alix), married the British Prince Edward.   She went on to become the Queen Consort of England after Victoria died, and Edward was crowned King Edward VII.  At age nineteen, Dagmar changed her name to Maria Feodorovna when she converted from Lutheranism to the Russian Orthodox Church before marrying Alexander Romanov who would go on to become Alexander III upon his coronation.  They married in 1866 at which point her title became, Grand Duchess Maria Feodorovna of Russia.  Sasha and Minnie, as they were known within their family, eventually had six children.  Five of whom survived to adulthood, and whom they raised during a very tumultuous time in Russian history.   

Sasha’s father was ultimately killed by a bomb after having survived several previous assassination attempts.  Sasha and Minnie were crowned Tsar and Tsarina in 1883.  Sasha’s father, Alexander II was on the verge of agreeing to allow a parliamentary system to be adopted in Russia.  After Alexander II’s assassination, Sasha clamped down harshly on the factions that were pushing for reform, and refused to allow any sort of parliamentary system to be created in Russia.   One wonders how the fate of Russia and the Romanovs might have changed if Alexander II had survived to implement his political plan.

The ensuing years in the story take Minnie from a young bride, to a widow in 1894.  After 1894 she influenced her children as Dowager Empress.  She tried to have her son, Tsar Nicholas II, implement some of his grandfather’s plans.  Instead he was heavily influenced by his wife Alexandra (Alicky) and in turn she was heavily influenced by the prophet-like figure of Rasputin.   Nicholas would not relinquish any control to a representative form of government.   That decision coupled with the weakening of the Russian empire during WWI, and the resulting inability to clamp down on dissident factions ultimately lead to the 1918 massacre.
This work of historical fiction was riveting, if a tad bit long.  While the book kept building towards the denouement of the last days of the Romanov’s in Russia, Gortner kept my attention by describing the history preceding the collapse of the Romanov’s in an approachable way.   Minnie lived to be 80 years-old, and she lived through such a tumultuous time in world events.  I knew enough of Russian history before starting this book to know that the Romanov story wasn’t going to end well, but the book explained how they ended up as they did.  It also explained so much more about the interconnectedness of European royalty at the time.  I found it fascinating and really well written. 

Thank-you to NetGalley; Ballantine Books; and the author, C.W. Gortner; for providing a free ARC copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.  Expected Publication Date:  July 10, 2018
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4.5 Stars

This engaging historical novel about the life of Tsarina Maria Feodorovna, neé Princess Dagmar of Denmark, evocatively captures the last seven decades of the Russian Romanov dynasty. Dagmar, who went by the nickname Minnie, came from relatively humble beginnings in life, a strong contrast to the life she led when she married Tsarevich Alexander Alexandrovich. Prior to the Russian Revolution, she had been one of the wealthiest women in the world. Minnie, or more formally Princess Marie Sophie Frederikke Dagmar of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg, was born into an impoverished royal-blooded family in Denmark. One of six children, when her family was raised to rule in Denmark she saw the entire family's fortunes change in less than a decade, as she and her siblings married into or were appointed to powerful royal houses of Europe. Closest to her sister Alix, who married Bertie, Prince of Wales and son of Queen Victoria, and related to most of the great royal houses of Europe, Minnie lived a truly incredible life. During the course of her life in Russia, she saw the country descend into disaster and revolution.

Fiercely loyal and a family person, Minnie endured considerable personal loss, beginning with the untimely death of her beloved fiancé Tsarevich Nixa, to whom she was happily engaged, prior to marrying his younger brother, Grand Duke Alexander, who later became Tsar Alexander III. Minnie went on to raise five children to adulthood, including her firstborn son, the ill-fated Nicholas II. With her powerful charisma and socially adept nature, Minnie had helped smooth over some of the problems of the revisionist reign of her husband Tsar Alexander III, a conservative leader who reversed a number of liberal reforms of his predecessor-father. His death after only thirteen years as tsar placed Nicholas II at the head of the Romanov trainwreck. While he initially took his mother's advice in the early years of his reign, he eventually supplanted her with his somewhat unstable wife Alexandra as his chief advisor, spelling disaster for the Romanov line. Minnie lived to see all of her sons (her son George Alexandrovich died in a vehicle accident in 1899, and her remaining sons Tsar Nicholas II and Grand Duke Misha Alexandrovich who were cruelly murdered by the Bolsheviks), along with her grandchildren from Nicholas die before her, her own exile into penury, and a country she had loved for fifty years descend into the chaos of revolution.

The story of Maria Feodorovna is truly epic in its scope. While I had some trouble with the early parts of the book dealing with royals marrying for love versus duty (honestly, wasn't it way more duty than love for women marrying into these Royal European families?), the story of the last Romanovs is so gripping that you get swept away by Minnie's amazing and ultimately tragic life. This was a stirring and well-researched novel. 

By the way, I do have to say that looking at photos (supplied on my blog's review post and Goodreads post!) of Dagmar and Nixa versus Dagmar and Sasha, you can't help but feel that there was great reciprocity and fondness between the former star-crossed pair. Her sadness over Nixa's loss is captured poignantly in this novel. Still, a year and a half later, her family had her packed off to St. Petersburg to marry his brother Sasha. Duty called.
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I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Out of the two Romanov books I read this year—the other being I Was Anastasia—The Romanov 
Empress was my personal favorite. I never gave any thought to the mother of Tsar Nicholas II, Tsarina Maria Feodorovna, also known as Minnie. This book was clearly extremely well researched and I learned so much from it, despite it being historical fiction. I enjoyed this atypical princess story, but got a little frustrated with Minnie’s character at times. Regardless, it was clear that this Tsarina was a strong woman and I enjoyed watching her growth as a character and her opinions on the catastrophes that repeatedly befell the Romanov family over the years.

I wasn’t in the mood for a historical fiction novel when I picked up this book, but I got hooked on it right away. I was unable to put the novel down and would certainly read more of the author’s novels in the future. Even though most readers will likely know about the tragedies leading to taking down the Romanov dynasty, the novel is not depressing. I felt almost as if I were a member of the royal family when reading this novel, so absorbed was I in their dazzling world of palaces and Fabergé eggs.

I loved main character Minnie from the moment she was introduced as a young girl—known as Princess Dagmar of Denmark—watching her older sister, Alix, marry the Prince of Wales. Minnie was fiery and precocious and even had no problems denying Queen Victoria what she wanted. Minnie and her sister were not typical princesses, growing up poor, sewing their own clothes, and cleaning their own house. Minnie was not happy at her family’s rise to the royal family of Denmark due to the death of a family member, and was even less pleased that it means her sister and her will be separated. She was loathe to marry the Tsarevitch of Russia, Nix, but fell hopelessly in love with him and agreed to marry him. Tragically, Nix died before the two could wed. On his deathbed, Nix made Minnie and his brother—known to the family as Sasha—promise to wed, ensuring she would still become the empress of Russia one day.

This was only the first of many tragedies to befall the Romanov family, and Minne would indeed outlive not only her first fiancé, but also her father-in-law, new husband and four of her six children through her own common sense and tenacity. Throughout her life, Minnie became a nurse, advisor, mother, grandmother, and patron of the Red Cross. It was clear that if her son, Tsar Nicholas II had listened to his mother’s advice, instead of practically banishing her due to the wishes of his unpopular and incapable wife Alexandra, that things would have turned out differently for the family. Despite Minne’s fall from grace with her son and the revolution of their people, she managed to save refugees when her nephew—King George the V of England—sent his battleship to get her out of the country, refusing to leave without her people. She was truly a force of nature, being tactful, sociable, and brave enough to move far away from the only home she ever knew—taking on a new religion, language, and culture.

Despite all of the good she did, I admittedly grew frustrated at times that Minnie seemed to get caught up in the splendor and riches of court, and lost touch with her impoverished roots. But then I asked myself, how could anyone be completely impervious to the wealth and power of the Romanov dynasty? Despite being much more haughty and elitist in her older age (and downright obnoxiously petty to her new daughter-in-law and controlling to her son and the rest of her children), Minnie was still a cut above the rest of the court. She mostly raised her own children, learned how to become a nurse during the wars, turned her palace into a hospital, founded a society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, was actively involved in education, and constantly pushed for reforms in order to avoid revolution. She also unsuccessfully sought to sway her husband, Tsar Alexander III, that the people needed more rights in order to solve the unrest.

Though the book was filled with political issues, I mostly enjoyed the relationships and romance of the novel. I hated to see Minnie’s relationship with Nix struck down before it could begin, but I loved her hesitant and accepting love of her flawed husband, Tsar Alexander III, familiarly known as Sasha. Most of all, I enjoyed reading about Tsar Nicholas II and his problematic wife Tsarina Alexandra, and their relationship with Rasputin through the eyes of someone not in that nuclear family. I was surprised to find myself really loathing Alexandra. She shirked many of her duties as the Empress of Russia, gave her husband terrible advice, made awful decisions for her family, and was just all around an unpleasant human being who further isolated the family from those who could help. I could not help but wonder what would have happened to the Romanov family if Nicholas II had just listened to his mother and married a more suitable bride.

Typically, I have read novels through Anastasia’s eyes, so it was wonderful to see the events unfold through the eyes of an adult who did not agree with the actions of the family. I loved Minnie's secret support of her father-in-law's reform ideas before he was killed by a bomb in a revolt—something I never even knew happened. Particularly of interest to me was her aforementioned dislike of her daughter-in-law Alexandra, her meeting with Rasputin and her reactions to his assassination, and the illness of her grandson, Tsarevitch Alexei. Minnie’s rivalry with her sister-in-law, known as Miechkin, was also humorous and fun. I was always interested to see what the two would do next in order to top each other.

My one issue with the novel, wasn’t really an issue with the writing, but the inconvenience of history. Everyone was taking regal names left and right when they entered the Russian Orthodox church, and there were so many Olgas, Marias, Alexanders, Nicholases, etc,. that I often found myself confused which family member I was reading about. This is through no fault of the author’s, as he does include a family tree, but was really my own issue with keeping them all straight. Plus, all of the characters and royalty throughout many different countries were related! It was a club of royalty and everyone and their brother was a member. For example, Minnie’s sister was the Queen of England, her nephew the eventual King George V, and her brother King of Greece.

Regardless of this confusion, I really enjoyed this glimpse back into the glittering world of the Romanovs, even as it crumbled around the characters. It was fascinating to watch the unrest grow at the beginning of Minne's time in Russia, and to see it eventually develop into revolution that crushed the dynasty despite her actions. Throughout it all, Minnie was a strong character, with believable motivations—who though far from perfect—was very likable. I would recommend this book to anyone who loves a good historical fiction novel, the Romanovs, or just plain fiction. I learned so much from this immersive book and would definitely read more of the author’s novels in the future.
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Wow. Just wow. I’ve always had a fascination with Russian history, and this did not disappoint. I’ve read a lot of stories about the royal family, and I enjoyed that the author switched it up to talk about this from a different point of view. I was riveted. I didn’t find it slow or too much, her voice was perfect. I couldn’t put it down. A wonderful account and must read.
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Maria (Minnie) Feodorovna was a Danish princess destined to marry the tsarevich of Russia during the Romanov dynasty.  In her life, she saw the reign of three tsars – her father-in-law, her husband, and her son.  Her son Nicholas, coming to the throne in a tumultuous time, is the last tsar of Russia.  This is a fascinating look at the final years of Imperial Russia’s royalty, seen through the eyes of a daughter, wife, and mother.
This book came across my NetGalley radar.  A recent read or two of the Romanovs’ story caused this book to pique my interest.  Plus, I enjoy learning and immersing in a great historical fiction story.  This one certainly didn’t disappoint.  I also didn’t realize until I was done reading it and digging into CW Gortner a bit more that I had already read an enjoyed another book by this author.
I found there to be a good balance between description and character development/dialogue.  I was glad to be reading the Kindle version, so I could just quickly click on words to learn their definition.  As expected, a lot of Russian terms I wasn’t familiar with.  
The whole book flowed smoothly.  I was engaged throughout, anxious to get back to it and learn what happened next.  
The character of Maria Feodorovna was well formed.  She was complex and sympathetic.  Really, all the characters were nicely fleshed out.  My only complaint, which is superfluous if you want historical accuracy, is that there were so many characters, and some had similar names. I got confused a few times but nothing that was detrimental to the overall enjoyment of the book.  
I’ll be the first to admit my knowledge of Imperial Russia is slight.  However, based on what I do know, this book seems well researched and in line with history.  
Triggers:  Violence – which makes sense for the time frame, and it’s not at all gory or gratuitous.  
Read if you’re a fan of the Romanovs, historical fiction, or just good books.
Thank you to NetGalley and Random House/Ballantine Books for giving me access to the ARC.  
If you would like to read more of my reviews, please visit
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I received an ARC of this novel from NetGalley.

The Romanov Empress is the fictionalized story of Tsarina Maria Feodorovna, wife of Alexander III and mother of Nicholas II, the last Romanov Tsar. The story is told from her point of view, and starts with her childhood as Princess Dagmar of Denmark. Born in the mid 1800's, her family, like most in Europe at the time, intermarried, making their family reunions interesting. Her older sister married The Prince of Wales, Queen Victoria's heir, and became Queen consort, her older brother the King of Denmark, and her younger brother became King of Greece. Related by marriage to the German Kaiser, this also made WWI, and the eventual downfall of the Romanov's very interesting.

Maria was a very strong woman. Although she was a Princess, the Kingdom of Denmark was not wealthy like the Romanov's, and she was raised in what we would say was a "normal" manner. She and her siblings had chores, their Mother made their clothes, and they did not have palaces full of servants. Maria had originally been engaged to Alexander's older brother, Nicholas (aka Nixa). 
Nixa died of meningitis, and his dying wish was that his brother, Alexander, marry Dagmar. Although neither was interested in the other, they both loved Nixa so much that they did indeed marry and Maria (the name she adopted after converting to Orthodoxy) and Alexander feel deeply in love with each other. Maria was a most beloved Empress of Russia. Despite her Danish background, she truly loved the Russian people, and endeared herself to them. She became the head of the Russian Red Cross and started the Russian version of the Humane Society for the fair treatment of animals. 

This was a volatile time in Russia. Alexander's father had freed the serfs, but this was not a well thought out plan, and the uneducated, unskilled serfs flocked to the cities to find better paying jobs. This was happening all over the world, but the staggering size of the Russian Empire amplified the situation, and groups fought and protested for more self-rule and the establishment of a Duma. Even before the Communist Revolution, the Nihilists became known for their bombs and attempts at killing the Emperor and his family. They succeeded in killing Maria's FIL, Alexander II. This event, and the overall fear of assassination and bombing would be present for the rest of the Romanov reign.

The one part of her life that Maria had trouble with was her children. Although their house was filled with love and respect, her children did what they wanted when it came to marriage. Most famously, her son, the Tsaravich, Nicholas who would become the last Romanov Emperor. He married Alexandra of Hesse, a German principality. Maria was famously anti-German, as were the Russian people, and from the beginning, she and Alexandra did not get along. This animosity increased as Alexandra gave birth to 4 girls before giving birth to the Tsaravich Alexei who suffered from hemophilia and was sickly from birth. Maria's husband, the Tsar, died young-ish, and Maria didn't think that Nicholas was ready to be the Emperor. She tried to guide him, as she had been a confidant of her husband, but her son had fallen under the spell of his wife, who was herself under the spell of Rasputin. This book doesn't go too far into the Rasputin legend, as it is Maria's story, but you get the sense how distraught Maria was at watching that family disintegrate from the outside. 

The story then moves through the outbreak of WWI and the Russian Revolution of 1918. What is apparent is that Nicholas III was ill prepared to lead Russia into the modern world. He inability to adapt to changing world attitudes and political waves guaranteed the end of the Romanov's. Maria tried desperately to save her family, her Empire, and the Russian people, but to no avail. 

This book was very well written and researched. As a huge fan of historical fiction, I always do my own research to see how true to life these fictionalized accounts are. Mr. Gortner is himself a self-professed Romanov fan, remembering a book about them from his childhood. It is easy to understand how these families must have felt during this time period--what in America was known as the Gilded Age, where excess was celebrated and the rich industrialists became richer and were America's version of royalty, but in Europe, this same excess was the ultimate downfall of many of these Royal families. 

Finally, look up photos of Maria--she was undoubtedly one of the most beautiful women in the world. 

I highly recommend this book if you love historical fiction, especially the Romanov's. I'm in love with this book, and I can't wait to read more by Mr. Gortner. 

Thank you NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read and review this novel!
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If you’re like me, your previous knowlege of Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna was limited to the animated feature, Anastasia, where Angela Lansbury gave voice to her.

Like most people, my attention was always drawn to the ill-fated Romanov family, Tsar Nicholas, his wife Alix and their children, Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia and Alexi, the tsarevich. I think most people who have heard the story find themselves fascinated by them. I’ve seen the animated film, the old film about Anastasia and read more books than I care to admit. However, when I heard that Mr. Gortner was tackling the Romanov story from the eyes of Maria Feodorvna–Minnie, as most call her in the story–I was delighted.

My delight, fortunately, wasn’t wasted.

Having read all of his prior books, I knew that he wouldn’t let me down. And he did not. He took us from  the 1860’s Denmark where she was Marie Sophie Frederikke Dagmar, called Minnie or Dagmar. Impoverished until a sudden change of fortune, Minnie is somewhat spirited, not wanting to conform to what is expected of her. Eventually, she comes to accept what her place will be, but it’s not a realisation that she comes to willingly. Minnie marries into the Romanov dynasty, understanding that someday, she will be Empress. You can’t help but want to yell, “Don’t do it!” But hindsight and the inability to go back in time doesn’t allow us that.

Russia is on the verge of a great change and through that time, Minnie learns to navigate not only the royal court, but her place in the people’s hearts. She has an understanding of them and doesn’t hesitate to be amongst them, learning as much as she can. Sadly, as we know, the Revolution happens and the consequences for the remainder of the family being headstrong and believing in the divine right to rule and listening to bad decision after bad decision, it ultimately costs them. Minnie can only offer advice and tries her damndest to save them from themselves.

I was enthralled from page one all the way to the end. Even knowing what is going to appen,you can’t help but be drawn in. Even if you are a die-hard Romanov family fan, I think you will learn from this. Mr. Gortner has outdone himself and this book is as beautiful as a Fabrigeé egg. Exquisite and a rarity in how spellbinding it is.

Brava, Mr. Gortner!
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Folks, I will lay this out for you right now so you can decide if you wish to read the review.  It’s only fair to warn you, yes?

I swore I’d never touch another fluffy, over-dramatized, highly imaginative but woefully researched book by this individual.  However, like a toothache, sometimes you just have to keep poking to see if it might get better.  Were it not for NetGalley, I would have walked on by, as the song says.

Take a look at the cover.  All pretty pastels and such, with the empress gazing out at the snow.  But here’s the thing:  the dress and hairstyle are all wrong for the historical period [and it’s an image from stock at that]; no imperial palace had plate glass windows or draperies like that; and St. Petersburg has classical architecture rather than onion-domed cathedrals—that’s Moscow, where the imperial family rarely if ever went.  And then the book blurb trumpets that this one is for fans of Philippa Gregory and Alison Weir, two historical hacks I dislike for their butchering of history.

Now, let’s take a look at the tale behind the implausible cover.  Once again we get a first-person narrative of a young woman who will be thrust onto the historical and dynastic center stage and do the following: bemoan her fate; get past that; learn a few words of Russian, although the Romanovs spoke English and French far more than Russian; become an Orthodox Christian; get married in splendor; reproduce; and then wait for the inevitable string of tragedies so she can wring her hands in true histrionic fashion.

I found no real sense of Minnie, the little Danish royal whose life would change so dramatically.  She rambled through endless pages with all the depth, subtleties, and character of a paper doll, often saying things that made little sense and doing things that made even less sense because no predicate was ever established for much.  She morphs from Minnie to the allegedly austere and formidable Maria Feodorovna, but that transformation seems to occur off-stage, as it were.

The author always picks one character in his books to actively dislike, and tries, in quite the ham-fisted way, to make readers agree with him.  In this book, the Designated Villain is none other than Alexandra. Maria Feodorovna’s daughter-in-law.  Like the former Minnie, Alexandra came “from away,” in this case a small German backwater, and bless her heart, Alexandra did have her issues.  But the author emphasized them, distorted them even, well outside the historical record, while he gives Maria Feodorovna, the Mother-in-Law from Hades, a free pass, which that same historical record does not support.

None of the rest of the Romanovs, to include that power couple Nicholas and Alexandra, so historically kin to Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette through their blindness, refusal to change, and fondness for absolutism in a changing world, fare any better.  I was often reminded of an oversized Fabergé egg when, its jeweled lid lifted, tiny enameled and jeweled people dance and bow without a word, all stiff and formal.  It’s quite a waste, really, with such a rich smorgasbord of historical characters, even clichéd Rasputin and the dissolute Prince Yusupov, to pepper the pages with yet end up with 3% beer instead of robust vodka.

The dialogue, on the whole, is clunky, especially between Maria Feodorovna and whoever is in the room with her speaking as if they are reading long excerpts from Wikipedia or the latest imperial ukase penned by Sergei Witt before his assassination.  You know, the dreaded “As you know, Bob…” amateurish method of informing the reader of what’s what.  In the alternative, we get boatloads of chirpy, syrupy, and unintentionally amusing conversations between and among the least likely folks to speak this way.

I’m no prude with regard to graphic violence, sex, or language when they are all well-written, used judiciously, and as a realistic component of a particular scene.  Unfortunately, all three pop up in the oddest places, almost as if the author thought he needed to wake his readers up, or shock them with what was, to me at least, the equivalent of junior varsity locker room antics.

I suppose my biggest giggle about this tiresome excuse for historical fiction occurred elsewhere when a reader asked if it were historically accurate.  The person who responded said that after reading this novel, she looked up Empress Maria Feodorovna in Wikipedia and found that indeed the book was very accurate.  Oh, dear me!  Wikipedia, the fount of historical knowledge… but it doesn’t appear as if this tale were even researched at that pitiful level.

So all you peeps who think you’ll actually learn some Russian history if you read this, here’s a suggestion:  if you want to read something rigorously reliable, well-researched, and compellingly written, read Robert K. Massie’s books on the last of the Romanovs.  Trust me—you will think you’ve discovered another imperial Russian family altogether.  But if you are happy with the Kardashian version, then you’ll really enjoy this one.
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"In that instant, as I beheld the people of my newly adopted country, crying out my newly bestowed title, a rush of heat surged in me, erasing the chill of the air. It was inexplicable, unexpected, but I truly realized then that in marrying the heir to Russia, I'd done more than bind myself to a stranger. I had bound myself to dynasty and an empire, to centuries of women before me who'd done their duty for their country."

Tsarina Maria Feodorovna was a remarkable woman, starting out her life as daughter to a poor Danish duke in title alone. Upon the passing of the Danish king, having no heirs of his own, Maria's father assumes the throne thrusting Maria and her family into the royal spotlight. Afraid of being forced to marry for political gain Maria found herself in love with just the man she is supposed to marry, the Tsarevich of Russia. Unfortunately for Maria, her betrothed died an untimely death, not before asking of her one last thing, that she marry his brother, the new heir to the throne. Consenting, young Maria Feodorovna was thrust into the world of the wealthiest royals on earth, learning the rules of court and her new role as wife and Tsarevna. This historical novel goes on to follow Maria for the rest of her life as she faces everything from hosting lavish galas, to hiding from assassins, to the eventual Russian revolution under Lenin.

This piece of history was entirely new to me having learned almost nothing about the last Romanovs and boy, is it fascinating. Tsarina Maria Feodorovna is the perfect vehicle for it, her being such a strong and interesting woman, and written so well in this book. The story covers decades and still manages to be incredibly readable and manages to avoid the dry tone that I find so often in historical novels. Thanks at least in part to the author's use of complex characters and descriptive prose. I loved the sense of claustrophobia that slowly builds throughout the story as Maria goes from being one of the most powerful women in the world to her slow confinement and fear of the nihilists and revolutionaries. I think Gortner was able to capture this gradual collapse of the Russian empire in the minds of his characters beautifully. In the second half there were times that I felt the story drag just a bit, the plot being largely one tragedy or big event after the other, but I'm sure this is nothing if not accurate.

This historical novel definitely sparked my interest in this history and now I'm dying to learn more about it! If you like in-depth looks at history or character studies of strong women this book will surely be for you.

"One doesn’t need to meet the wolf to know when to bolt the door."
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