Gortner’s mesmerizing historical novel (following The Vatican Princess) depicts the remarkable life of the mother of the last Russian tsar. In the 1860s, Princess Dagmar of Denmark (aka Minnie) succumbs to the charms of Tsarevich Nixa, son of Tsar Alexander II, and heir to the Russian throne. Their joyous engagement is thwarted when Nixa contracts meningitis and dies; on his deathbed, he asks his brother Sasha to marry Minnie. Sasha, a member of the Imperial Guard, is gruff and initially unappealing to Minnie, but she agrees to marry him. When revolutionaries strike, killing Tsar Alexander II, and Sasha is crowned Tsar Alexander III, Minnie takes on her duties as Tsarina Maria Feodorovna. With Russia still ripe for rebellion, Minnie helps Sasha lead the country and supports charitable causes while trying to protect her family from harm. After Sasha’s death and her son Nicky’s coronation, Minnie’s influence over the new tsar dwindles when Nicky marries Alexandra, who admires Rasputin. This insightful first-person account of the downfall of the Romanov rule will appeal to history buffs; at its core, it’s the powerful story of a mother trying to save her family and an aristocrat fighting to maintain rule in a country of rebellion, giving it an even broader appeal. Agent: Jennifer Weltz, Jean V. Naggar Literary. (July)
[A] timely new historical novel . . . The reader is whisked from the stately splendor of the Russian court in the late 1860s to its tumultuous end with the 1917 Bolshevik revolution, seen through the eyes of someone who was as impressive and as complicated as the time in which she reigned. . . . [C. W. Gortner’s] ability to weave what reads as a simple tale from such complex historical and familial storylines is impressive. . . . Maria’s life as a royal reads like a historical soap opera.”—USA Today
“Gortner, an experienced hand at recreating the unique aura of a particular time and place, will deftly sweep historical-fictions fans into this glamorous, turbulent, and ultimately tragic chapter in history.”—Booklist (starred review)
“A twist on the tragic story you’ve heard many times before.”—Bustle, “The 17 Best Fiction Books Coming Out In July 2018”
“Through the voice of Maria, Gortner succeeds in adding a new perspective to the well-known story of Nicholas, Alexandra, and Rasputin. As a sister, wife, mother, and empress, she is a fierce and dynamic narrator. . . . A solid recommendation for readers of historical fiction, especially those who favor the lives of kings and queens.”—Library Journal
“Mesmerizing . . . This insightful first-person account of the downfall of the Romanov rule will appeal to history buffs; at its core, it’s the powerful story of a mother trying to save her family and an aristocrat fighting to maintain rule in a country of rebellion, giving it an even broader appeal.”—Publishers Weekly
“Engaging . . . Gortner is wonderfully subtle, but given the times we live in, the problems are obvious: When a tiny percentage of people hold most of the wealth, it leads to demagoguery. The Romanov Empress relates an important piece of history. It’s also a warning about what comes when a nation is marred by rampant inequality.”—BookPage
“In his tenth historical novel, Gortner creates a vibrant portrait of imperial Russia. . . . A briskly narrated tale of power and revolution.”—Kirkus Reviews
“A lost age and a woman for the ages come to life in this epic tale. Gortner skillfully opens a window into the life of a woman who is both complex and entirely human, and sets the stage for the violent end of the Russian empire. Captivating and beautifully told, this story is a gem as rich as the opulent era it depicts.”—Lisa Wingate, New York Times bestselling author of Before We Were Yours
“A sweeping saga that takes us from the opulence and glamour of tsarist Russia to the violent, tragic last days of the Romanovs. Brave and inspiring, Maria Feodorovna confronts assassinations, the Rasputin affair, and the Russian revolution. C. W. Gortner breaks new ground here, skillfully painting an intimate, compelling portrait of this fascinating empress and her family.”—Stephanie Dray, New York Times bestselling co-author of America’s First Daughter
A Danish princess becomes a Russian czarina, mother to the last Romanov czar.In his 10th historical novel, Gortner (The Vatican Princess, 2016, etc.) creates a vibrant portrait of imperial Russia, narrated by the woman at its throbbing center: Maria Feodorovna. The daughter of Denmark's King Christian IX, Minnie, as she was known, was destined to marry into royalty, just as her older sister, Alix, did when she married Queen Victoria's son, Bertie. Faced with a marriage to the czarevich, Nicholas, she was surprised to find herself falling in love with "his gentle spirit and noble soul." But suddenly, he was dying, exacting a promise from Sasha, one of his brothers, to wed Minnie. When Minnie balks at the idea of marrying a man so unlike her beloved Nixa, her mother rebukes her sternly: "Think of everything you can achieve," not only as "conscience and counsel" for her husband, but also for the good of Denmark. As Maria Feodorovna, she arrives in a nation beset by turmoil and violence. Although her father-in-law, Czar Alexander II, enacted liberal changes, such as abolishing serfdom, Nihilists and anarchists cry for more: "they sow terror in the hope that I'll either grant reforms or abdicate. Preferably abdicate," Alexander tells Minnie. "They have no use for a tsar." While Russian royalty reside in opulent palaces and bedeck themselves in stunning arrays of precious jewels, peasants live in abject poverty. Visiting a Red Cross hospital, Maria is shocked by the "searing display of the plight of the poor." When Alexander II is assassinated, Sasha emerges as an oppressive ruler, trying to contain bloody dissension. When he dies of illness, he is succeeded by his son, Nicholas, whose czarina, Alexandra—whom Maria vehemently dislikes—has her own ideas about Russian supremacy, fueled in part by her alliance with the unsavory Rasputin. Politics and war form the backdrop of a story more closely focused on court gossip, family tensions, and the arrogance and isolation that led the Romanovs to their doom. "We existed in a dream," Maria reflects, "enclosed in our lacquered splendor."A briskly narrated tale of power and revolution.
Gortner, who has chronicled the lives of the Tudor, Medici, and Borgia noble families and most recently Hollywood royalty, in the form of Marlene Dietrich (Marlene), dives into the dramatic final years of the Romanov dynasty. Maria Feodorovna, wife to Tsar Alexander III and mother to Tsar Nicholas II, has a singular viewpoint on the drastic changes in Europe at the turn of the 20th century. Born to a royal though impoverished family in Denmark, she embraces a new religion, a new language, and a new land in order to wed the heir to the Russian throne. He dies shortly before their wedding and she marries his brother instead. Decades of decadence and family strife are followed by immense political upheaval. Assassinations, affairs, exile, and illness take their toll on the royal family's ability to govern a changing Russia. Through the voice of Maria, Gortner succeeds in adding a new perspective to the well-known story of Nicholas, Alexandra, and Rasputin. As a sister, wife, mother, and empress, she is a fierce and dynamic narrator. VERDICT A solid recommendation for readers of historical fiction, especially those who favor the lives of kings and queens. [July 16 marks the centennial of the murder of Tsar Nicholas and his family by the Bolsheviks.—Ed.]—Catherine Lantz, Univ. of Illinois at Chicago Lib.