Book Tour Review: The Romanov Empress by C.W. Gortner

Monday, July 30, 2018

Title: The Romanov Empress
Author: C.W. Gortner
Genre: historical fiction
Series: N/A
Pages: 448
Published: July 2018
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours for review
Rating:  4/5

Even from behind the throne, a woman can rule.

Narrated by the mother of Russia's last tsar, this vivid, historically authentic novel brings to life the courageous story of Maria Feodorovna, one of Imperial Russia's most compelling women who witnessed the splendor and tragic downfall of the Romanovs as she fought to save her dynasty in the final years of its long reign.

Barely nineteen, Minnie knows that her station in life as a Danish princess is to leave her family and enter into a royal marriage--as her older sister Alix has done, moving to England to wed Queen Victoria's eldest son. The winds of fortune bring Minnie to Russia, where she marries the Romanov heir and becomes empress once he ascends the throne. When resistance to 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 lead her into a disturbing relationship with a mystic named Rasputin. As the unstoppable wave of revolution rises anew to engulf Russia, Maria will face her most dangerous challenge and her greatest heartache.

From the opulent palaces of St. Petersburg and the intrigue-laced salons of the aristocracy to the World War I battlefields and the bloodied countryside occupied by the Bolsheviks, C. W. Gortner sweeps us into the anarchic fall of an empire and the complex, bold heart of the woman who tried to save it.

Covering decades in the doomed Romanov Court, veteran author C.W. Gortner uses his many strengths as a historical fiction writer to illuminate the life of Dagmar of Denmark, who became known to history by her adopted name of Empress Maria Feodorovna. Mother to the last Tsar of Russia, this kind and clever woman left an impact all her own both on her family and on the country she adopted as her own.

Dagmar, who usually answered to the name Minnie though she had a plethora of nicknames, led a fascinating life. The second daughter of an impoverished and unexpected king of Denmark, her story is full of both heartbreak and quiet determination. Fiancee first to Tsarevich Nicholas Alexandrovich, but the eventual wife of his brother Emperor Alexander III, her romantic life was unpredictable and tangled. Her many allegiances -- to her beloved home country, then to Nixa, then her autocratic husband, and finally to her children and grandchildren -- made the intersections of her identity relatable and recognizable to modern readers. She was a woman pulled in many directions who did the best she could for her country and for her descendants.

Life in the Romanov court is brought to vibrant reality under Gortner's pen, albeit with a few improvisations on the factual. Minnie's introduction to Russian culture and perspective is fresh and atmospheric; seeing Russia through the eyes of the tsars and their family is memorable. Some details and events have been adjusted, moved, or ignored to streamline the narrative and the authorial decisions make sense; Minnie's life was long and convoluted but the gist of her story is contained within The Romanov Empress. She's presented as a whole person; fallible and flawed, but one who no doubt tried to stave off the inevitable decline of her 400-year-old dynasty.

Large in scope but without sacrificing the finer details, The Romanov Empress paints a realistic and researched version of Dagmar. Her personality and opinions shine through, even when overruled by her more despotic spouse; a figure in the Russian court for most of her life, it's easy to get lost in the romanticized version of this period in history. But Maria was a real woman, who loved, lost and then tried to find her grand-daughter after the worst horror befell her extended family. Through all the stages of her public life -- impoverished princess to wary tsarevna to strong-willed tsarina -- Minnie never lost her quiet strength or her deeply-held beliefs. She was an impressive woman and Gortner shows her in all her imperfect humanity.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for hosting C.W. Gortner's blog tour! I am thrilled that you enjoyed The Romanov Empress!

    HF Virtual Book Tuors


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