The Romanov Empress: A Novel of Tsarina Maria Feodorovna

The Romanov Empress: A Novel of Tsarina Maria Feodorovna

by C. W. Gortner

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Overview

For readers of Philippa Gregory and Alison Weir comes a dramatic novel of the beloved Empress Maria, the Danish princess who became the mother of the last Russian tsar.

“This epic tale is captivating and beautifully told.”—Lisa Wingate, New York Times bestselling author of Before We Were Yours

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.

Praise for The Romanov Empress

“Timely . . . [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)

“Mesmerizing . . . This insightful first-person account of the downfall of the Romanov rule . . . is the powerful story of a mother trying to save her family and an aristocrat fighting to maintain rule in a country of rebellion.”—Publishers Weekly

“A twist on the tragic story you’ve heard many times before.”Bustle

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780425286173
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 07/10/2018
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 448
Sales rank: 2,310
File size: 6 MB

About the Author

C. W. Gortner holds an MFA in writing, with an emphasis on historical studies, from the New College of California. He is the internationally acclaimed and bestselling author of Mademoiselle Chanel, The Queen’s Vow, The Confessions of Catherine de Medici, The Last Queen, The Vatican Princess, and Marlene, among other books. He divides his time between Northern California and Antigua, Guatemala. To learn more about his work and to schedule a book group chat with him, please visit his website.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE

8

“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.

“Alike?” Standing on a footstool as Mama and her maid flapped about her, lifting items to her face and slim figure to determine which best suited her, my sister Alix regarded me in bemusement. “As if we were twins?”

“Yes.” I tilted up two of the boxes beside me on the settee. “Look. You have an extra pair of everything now. We could dress alike and see if your fiancé can tell us apart.”

Alix’s thin brows knit together. Her little frown pleased me; it showed my sister was not as immune to the absurdity of the situation as she might feign. Before she could reply, however, our mother issued her tart reprimand, with that faint irritation she employed whenever I did or said something inappropriate, which, for her, was becoming all too frequent.

“Minnie. That is enough. Dress like twins, how absurd.” Mama clucked her tongue. “As if His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales were blind. Why, you and Alix are nothing alike.”

“Are you certain?” Though I meant to sound nonchalant, I heard the challenge in my tone. “We might not be alike, but he’s only met her once. He might not even recognize her when he sees her again.”

Mama went still, a ruffled petticoat in her hands. Looking at that creamy white silk, I had to swallow a surge of anger. Times past, we could never have afforded such a petticoat or indeed any of these other fancy things littering the room. We made our own clothes, and mended them, too. We’d been happy in our little yellow palace in Copenhagen, relishing summer outings to swim in the sea, our gymnastics competitions, and musical evenings after frugal meals, where we’d served ourselves at the table. Luxuries had never mattered, not when we had one another. Our family was our greatest gift. Yet here we were, smothered in visible proof of our impending dissolution.

How could so much have changed in so little time?

“Of course His Highness will love her,” said Mama. “It’s his duty as her husband, as it is hers as his wife. Whatever has come over you, to be so contrary on the very day of Alix’s fitting for her trousseau? Can’t you see she’s nervous enough as it is?”

My sister watched me from the mirror. If she was nervous, she did not show it. She looked tired and pale, the shadows under her cool-­gray eyes betraying her fatigue, but she was composed—­so much, in fact, that her steady gaze unnerved me. Despite her unflinching stance, she must realize I spoke the truth. It was impossible to predict if her marriage would bring her happiness or heartache. But she’d never admit it aloud, not before our mother, who’d labored so long for this elevation in our fortune, the latest in a sweeping tide of change that had left me feeling stranded, struggling to stay afloat.

“I was only saying . . .” My voice trailed off as Mama gave me a glare.

“We know what you were saying, Minnie. And I tell you, it is enough.”

Exasperated, I crunched the tissue in the hat box beside me. “Perhaps I should go out for a walk,” I muttered. “Seeing as I’m not needed here.”

“If you cannot make yourself useful, yes, you should.” Mama turned back to my sister. “Fresh air will no doubt improve your mood and take that unpleasant sting out of your tail. I’ll not have you distracting your sister with nonsense when we’ve so much to do.”

Fresh air and a minimum of nonsense were Mama’s solution to everything. She was nothing if not sensible, no matter that in the last year we’d experienced enough upheaval to turn any other sensible woman’s head. But Louise of Hesse-­Cassel never indulged such weakness. She’d first showed this obdurate trust in her own judgment by defying her family to marry my father, her second cousin, Christian of Glücksburg, an impoverished princeling of no particular account, with whom she’d settled into a penurious but pleasant existence, raising us with a sensible disregard for pretension. She might now be poised to become Queen of Denmark, with Papa’s surprising inheritance of our childless king’s throne, while preparing to send her eldest daughter off to marry Great Britain’s heir, yet she approached these monumental tasks as she might the daily cleaning of the parlor. And that sting in my tail, as she called it, confounded her, for it was something no child of hers should display, especially in light of our newly exalted circumstances.

Tugging at my voluminous skirts, I marched to the door, pausing there. I hoped my sister would call me back. I wanted Alix to say something, to show she still needed me. But when she remained silent and I glanced defiantly over my shoulder, I found her smothered in the silk petticoat, Mama ordering the maid to fasten her stays, as if Alix were a doll.

Or a lamb for the sacrifice.

To me, my sister’s upcoming marriage was much the same.

We were not born to grandeur. Mama had often reminded us of this in our childhood, so we wouldn’t expect more than we had. Those born into riches are not so fortunate, she would say as she sat with Alix and me, instructing us in our embellishment of homemade bonnets or darning of underclothes. Those who begin their lives with everything cannot appreciate the rewards of aspiration. Wise advice, for no one had reaped more reward in aspiration than Mama, but scarce comfort to me now as I traversed the Bernstorff Palace, passing statuary and mirror-­paneled walls without a glance, my heels echoing on the parquet floors and my wide-­hooped skirt soughing in my wake.

We’d moved to the palace a month ago, once it was determined that Papa would become Denmark’s new crown prince. Nestled on spacious grounds outside Copenhagen, the palace was suitably elegant, much larger than our yellow home within the city. The beautiful gardens were one of the few changes I’d welcomed, with their magnificent lime trees and walking paths. My younger brother, Valdemar, and little sister, Thyra, loved it here, let loose to dirty their feet and scramble under the hedgerows. But I was nearly fifteen now, too old for childish games, though as I escaped into the garden I wished I were not. I longed to be a child again, free to run and hide.

Raising a hand to my brow, I realized I’d forgotten to fetch a parasol or hat. I risked getting too much color. Imagining my mother’s reaction to this, I strode forth, thinking I should also undo the scratchy net confining my thick curls at my nape and incite a scandal. Only there was no one here to be scandalized. The gardens stretched before me in verdant emptiness, until I neared the Swedish-­style villa that served as a teahouse and saw a familiar figure in a dark suit pacing outside it, cigar smoke drifting in a cloud about him.

Papa.

Grasping up fistfuls of my skirts and not caring that my ankles showed, I raced across the lawn to him. He turned, startled, smoke curling from his mouth under his impressive new mustachios. He had grown them to appear more distinguished. I found them funny, for his wispy brown hair was thin on top, a sparse fleece offsetting that thicket on his face. And future king or not, he still had to smoke outside, because Mama deplored the smell and had begged him to cease indulging “that disgusting vice.”

“Finished so soon?” A smile lightened his careworn face. It hurt me to see that he too had begun to change. Ever since it was decided he would succeed our ailing king, Papa had shed his lighthearted air, as if the burden of the crown already weighed upon him.

“Not for hours, I should think.” I wrinkled my nose at the pungent odor of tobacco enveloping him. “They still have mounds of things to sort through. There mustn’t be a single dress left in all of Copenhagen. Mama said I was being contrary, so I left.”

“I see.” A smile creased the corners of his mild light-­brown eyes. “And were you being contrary, my Dagmar?”

It was his chosen name for me, one of the several with which I’d been christened, and my favorite, for everyone in the family but him called me Minnie. Dagmar was a unique name that set me apart, once belonging to a legendary queen consort of our country.

I shrugged. “I don’t see why there must be such a fuss.”

He laughed. “Your sister is about to wed Queen Victoria’s son and heir. One day, God willing, she’ll be queen consort of Great Britain. Most consider it a grand fuss, indeed.”

“Perhaps for Mama and Queen Victoria. As for Alix, how grand it is remains to be seen.” As I saw his expression dim, I added, “I’m only worried for her, Papa. Alix has been acting so strange. She just seems to accept all of it without question.”

He exhaled, leaned down to stamp out his cigar on the path, and then tucked the butt into his jacket pocket. “She doesn’t need to question. It’s a very prestigious match, which your mother encouraged and Queen Victoria approved. Alix knows she must fulfill her duty.”

His statement took me aback. I believed I knew Alix better than anyone, yet I hadn’t paused to think that, indeed, my sister had always shown an exemplary sense of duty.

She was almost three years older, and we had grown up together, sharing a bedroom and our lessons. Our eldest brother, Frederick, was sent abroad to study, and our second brother, Willie, was enrolled in the Danish Military Academy, while our youngest sister, Thyra, and our third brother, Valdemar, were still children. Alix and I had therefore cleaved to each other in a home always lacking for funds and dominated by our mother, who, when our family reunited for the holidays, lavished her attention on our brothers.

I’d always resented how much due she gave Freddie and Willie, even if Alix told me it was natural, as a mother always valued her sons more. I didn’t see why, seeing as we, the daughters, helped manage the household while the sons were away. Yet unlike me—­I hated the endless chores—­my sister never protested. At night, we whispered together over our work-­chafed hands, our narrow beds pushed side by side. We promised each other that one day we’d buy a house of our own by the Sound, with floors we’d never scrub. We’d own a hundred dogs and paint the hours away, for we were both skilled with watercolors. All that changed once she’d accepted Prince Albert Edward’s proposal. She became someone else, no longer my devoted sister; suddenly she was Mama’s favorite, inundated with etiquette practice, dance lessons, or dress fittings, preparing for a new life in another country, in which I’d play no part.

“I barely see her anymore,” I said, avoiding my father’s eyes. “Mama always has important letters Alix must write, people they must visit, or something she must try on. I feel as though she’s left us already.”

“Have you told her as much?” he asked gently. “Perhaps this contrariness of yours has made her think you’re angry with her.”

Again I paused. Was I angry? I supposed I must be. I certainly did not like how willingly she’d acquiesced to this marriage and forsaken our confidences.

“Do I seem angry to you?” I said.

“Always.” He pinched my cheek. “You’re our rebellious one.”

“Rebellious!” I exclaimed. “Just because I don’t want everything to change? Our life has been turned upside down, Papa. I never expected any of this.”

He sighed. “I see how trying it is for you. I am sorry for it. But marriage is an essential passage in life, Dagmar. We must leave those we love behind to start a family of our own.” He paused. “You’re almost fifteen. Have you never considered it?”

“Of course I have,” I replied, though I hadn’t. Marriage might be inevitable, but until now it had also been easily ignored. “But how can Alix marry someone she barely knows? Bertie of Wales saw a photograph of her and asked for a meeting; it was only at Easter that they were introduced, remember, when we all went to Rumpenheim together. The tsarina was there with her eldest son; I thought Alix liked the tsarevich. Nixa certainly seemed to like her, while she and Bertie barely said three words to each other. Yet now she loves him enough to marry him?” When my father didn’t answer, I pressed on. “You must have loved Mama when you married her.”

“I did.” His face softened. “Your mother was so vibrant and determined. I fell in love with her at once. She wasn’t unlike you in her youth. She knew exactly what she wanted.”

I refused to be placated. At this particular moment, I wasn’t pleased to be compared with my mother, who had connived to upend our existence.

“But before I met your mother, I tried to woo Victoria,” Papa added, with a grin.

I was astounded. “You did?”

“Not only me. Dozens of princes tried. She was the most eligible bride in Europe. And I was rather bold, despite my lack of means. I wrote her letters and offered to visit, hoping I might win her hand. Alas, she disdained me, and several others, to marry Albert of Saxe-­Coburg and Gotha instead.”

“Who died,” I groused. “Leaving her a widow to meddle in our affairs.”

“Now, now. You mustn’t blame the queen. It is true the tsar’s son expressed interest in your sister, but Alix didn’t want to live in Russia, where she doesn’t speak the language.”

“They speak French at the Russian court. See? Alix doesn’t know anything! She hates rain, too, and I hear it rains all the time in England. Whatever will she do when she cannot step outside without getting wet?”

“We’ll have to make sure she brings plenty of umbrellas.” Papa gave me another smile. “I know this isn’t easy for you, but casting doubts now will not reassure her.”

I winced. Being too engrossed in my own feelings, I hadn’t given Alix’s feelings any thought. I moved closer to my father, seeking comfort as he slipped his arm about my waist and kissed my brow. “Again without a hat,” he said. “Your mother will be furious.”

“Add it to her list of grievances,” I replied, and his laughter rumbled in his chest as he guided me along the path, his arm about me, enclosing me in a sense of safety that made me realize I feared losing him, too. I knew our king was ill and that hasty preparations to confirm Papa as crown prince were under way. What would our life be like, with him on the throne and Mama as queen, with hordes of retainers and officials surrounding us day and night?

I shivered at the thought. He tightened his hold on me. “What else troubles you?”

I felt foolish. Any other girl would welcome this rise in her station, the chance to call herself a princess and be the senior daughter, now that her sister was leaving. “Must we move to the Amalienborg Palace after we return from Alix’s wedding?” I asked.

“I’m afraid so. King Frederick has granted me the immense honor of becoming his heir, but it was no simple task. It took months for everyone to reach agreement. His Majesty now insists we must live according to our rank.” He looked down at me, for I was short in stature, like my mother, while Alix was tall and willowy, like him. “Our yellow house isn’t suitable for a future king and his family. We’ll keep this palace for the summer and then you’ll have your own suite in the Amalienborg. Won’t that be nice? Apartments of your own, to do with as you like, after sharing a bedroom all these years?”

“With Thyra there?” I referred to my nine-­year-­old sister, who followed me around in adoration whenever she wasn’t romping with our little brother. “She’ll move in with me the moment she can. I don’t mind,” I said. “I wouldn’t know what to do with an entire suite.”

“More unwelcome change, eh? We’ll have to muddle through it as best we can.”

I nodded glumly as he released me, searching his jacket. He was about to extract his cigar butt when he suddenly peered toward the palace. Following his gaze, I saw my mother waving at us from an upstairs window.

“It seems they finished sooner than we thought,” said Papa. “Well. Let’s go behold your sister’s trousseau. Do be kind to her. Remember what I said; Alix isn’t like you. She doesn’t express herself easily, so find a time to speak with her alone. She needs your support more than ever. I don’t want you at odds when we depart for England.”

“Yes, Papa,” I said.

But I wasn’t sure I wanted to hear what my sister might say. What if I discovered she wouldn’t miss me as much as I wanted her to?

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The Romanov Empress: A Novel of Tsarina Maria Feodorovna 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 22 reviews.
ForTheArtOfIt 25 days ago
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.
grammy57 More than 1 year ago
I love a good historical fiction book. This book is excellent. The author writes from the view of Minnie and tells her story. She is very well developed and real. Many of the other characters are well developed also. I did have to try to keep track of all the ways these characters were all related and inter-related, but that is not the fault of the author, but history itself. The story takes you from Minnie as a young teenager, until the Russian Revolution. It ends with an epilogue that ties the history together and what happened to those in the story that survived. It also touches on the fake Anastasia. There was just a couple of times I felt the author went a tad too far. I did not see any reason to touch on the sexual parts. They were not vulgar, but they could, and in my opinion, should have been omitted. Would I recommend this book? Yes, most definitely. You will learn a lot about the Romanov family told in a most interesting way.
Conroyd More than 1 year ago
I just finished “The Romanov Empress” by C.W. Gortner. Having read most of his books, I have to say that this is his best. A writer of this kind of subject faces several hurdles. One is world building. The historical setting involving all of Europe and its royalty is daunting, but it was created so effectively as to draw in the reader to time and place. A second challenge is to render the main character in all her strengths and weaknesses in a way that is fair to her and to history. The main character and the closest satellite persons around her all shine with their own personalities and quirks. Last, the biggest hurdle is creating a story in which you, the reader, know the end because it is historical, and yet, the story grips you in human aspects so that, chapter by chapter, you are propelled to the end. And~after reading, you might~with a sense of irony or pangs of regret~ask yourself: But for a decision made, bad timing, or a character flaw, how history might have played out so much differently. “The Romanov Empress” comes highly recommended.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Once again, C.W. Gortner brings history to life and transports you into the lives of some of history’s most fascinating dynasties. I first discovered this author through The Confessions of Catherine De Medici and have been hooked on his works ever since. His portrayal of these strong women spanning several countries and centuries is truly captivating. I eagerly await the next novel!
wordsandpeace More than 1 year ago
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.
SherreyM More than 1 year ago
As a long-time fan of historical fiction, I am always on the lookout for some period or place in history about which I know very little. Such is the case with the Romanov family and Russia. When NetGalley offered The Romanov Empress by C.W. Gortner, another favorite of mine, I immediately requested a copy. One of the unique features of Gortner’s story of the Romanov lineage is his choice to tell the story through the eyes and experience of Maria Feodorovna, a strong and bold woman, even at age 19 who marries the Romanov heir and herself becomes Tsarina of Russia as well as mother of the last tsar, Nicholas. Gortner creates a realistic character in Maria, also called Minnie, by sharing her life growing up as a princess in Denmark and known as Dagmar. The story is told through Maria’s voice. Her family was poor to the extent the women made their own clothes, did their own cleaning and laundry. Yet Maria’s sister married the eldest son of Queen Victoria, and Maria goes on to marry the heir to the Romanov throne. An obvious step up for not only these sisters but their entire family. A seamless blending of the familial, political and romantic areas of life brings The Romanov Empress to life. We, the readers, are able to relate on a personal level to the characters with this look at this overview of Russian life. Gortner also drew on the use of a character not often written about; most often we read historical novels set in Russia in this time period and focus on Anastasis and Tsar Nicholas. It was lovely and refreshing to read about someone lesser known in the Romanov family. Gortner also qualifies a remarkable teacher of history no matter the setting. I knew little of the Romanovs until reading The Romanov Empress. Thanks to Gortner’s research and factual presentation I feel a little more in touch with that part of history. My Recommendation: If you are a fan of historical fiction, especially that set in Russia during the time of the tsars and tsarinas, you will fall in love with The Romanov Empress. Settings are so full of glitter and light as to feel you are there among the ball gowns and the uniforms. The dialogue is easily captured and used to build the story from character to character. Not a moment when you will feel like sitting this book aside.
Kristy_K More than 1 year ago
I love learning about history. Especially that of times and people that aren’t as well known as say, WWII or King Henry VIII. Yet as much as I love learning about it, reading about it can at times be a bore. Enter historical fiction. While, obviously, fictionalized these accounts are brought to life and give us a glimpse into what events may have been like (and hopefully educate us a little along the way). Most of us know about the Romanov dynasty because of Catherine the Great, Peter the Great, and most likely, Rasputin and the fall of the Tsars. So it was refreshing to read a historical fiction novel about the Romanov’s the centered not around Anastasia or Tsar Nicholas, but about Tsarina Maria, Nicholas’ mother. The Romanov Empress blends politics, love, and family together to create a spellbinding tale of the Tsarina’s life. Along the way I had a bit of a history refresher, learning the familial links between herself and the many other rulers in Europe. Gortner does a great job bringing these historic characters to life and many times I felt I was right there in the middle of a ball or trekking along Russia’s cold streets. If you are a fan of historical fiction or Russian history, I highly recommend. And if you’ve read any of Gortner’s previous works, which do you recommend next?
jmchshannon More than 1 year ago
The Romanov Empress is one of the best examples of historical fiction I have read in a long time. It has everything - exquisite details, a compelling time period, a charismatic historical figure, and extensive research seamlessly compiled into an amazing story of excess, privilege, and politics. Mr. Gortner works his magic once again to bring readers back to Imperial Russia and allows you to view its downfall from a different perspective, lamenting what was and what could have been. It is a fascinating story, one that captures your mind and your heart to the detriment of everything else while reading. Many an author has tackled the fall of the Romanov dynasty in some fashion, usually from the last tsar's and his family's perspective as they focus on the tragedy of their deaths. Mr. Gortner instead opts to focus on the final dynastical matriarch, Maria Feodorovna. In doing so, we get a better idea of life before, during, and after the Russian Revolution. Moreover, we get a different look at Nicholas II, his beloved wife, and their children, one that diminishes the myth surrounding this doomed family. It all makes for a wealth of information that helps explain the complicated history of the Russian peasant versus the Russian monarchy to show how many years in the making the Revolution was. Moreover, while the story revolves around Maria and her family, Mr. Gortner is even-handed in showing the mistakes both sides made along the path to revolution. He does not hide her husband's policies and use of brute force designed to root out opposition against the royal family. Nor does he hide just how ineffectual Nicholas II is. What is most surprising is how he holds nothing back in regards to Alexandra and how her domineering attitude and abject refusal to see reason about her husband, family, and Rasputin exacerbated a political situation that was already tenuous and had a direct connection to the fate her family suffered. The whole thing reads like a juicy soap opera, but it is a soap opera backed up by a plethora of research. In my mind, this only makes the story that much more compelling. The Romanov Empress is the type of novel that is virtually impossible to ignore. You have difficulties finding a good stopping place while reading, and you constantly think of it when you are not reading it. You lament the fact that you were either not alive or not aware of the remaining Romanovs while they were still alive. While you might not approve of any type of monarchical rule, you cannot help but feel that it would be awesome to be able to see the Romanov splendor in its heydey. Minnie's story haunts you as you constantly ponder all of the "what ifs" that make up her history and wonder how different the world would be had any part of her story been different. Tsars who have been dead for over a century seem more real to you than the current farcical U.S. leaders. Mr. Gortner has given new life to a long-dead female force of nature, and the world is a little better as a result.
10936617 More than 1 year ago
This author is a master storyteller. She pulled me in to loving the main character, Minnie, formally Marie Feodorovna, Romanov Empress of Russia, right from the start. Minnie is so vibrant and alive, full of spunk and spirit. Before reading the book I knew the Romanov name and that they were the last ruling family before the Russian Revolution and not a whole lot more (other than that the Tsar and his family were executed). This book really made the events that led up to that revolution clear, both in Russia and abroad. At every turn I wanted her son, the Tsar, to heed her advice and somehow derail the events to come. But, of course, that could not happen. I love historical fiction because it takes those stories that seem dry and just events from the past and suffuses them with life. Although many of the characteristics of the Romanovs were attributed by the author, and we can only suppose what they might have said and done, enough of history remains to provide that skeleton that the author fleshes out for us. This is not a short, quick read. This is a substantial and weighty story of a family that could not accept the coming changes in their country and their rule, despite the obvious disquiet of their subjects and the fomenting revolutionaries. What might have been if Minnie's father-in-law had not been killed before he could install the Duma (the Russian version of a Parliment/ Congress)? Or if her husband, Sasha, had been willing to concede and form one during the early years of his rule after his father's death? By the time Minnie's son, Nicky, gave in it was really too late; too much blood had been shed, too many costly mistakes made. Occasionally, I had trouble keeping all of the family members straight as there was much repetition in naming, much for tradition's sake and also due to form when ascending to power (like in England, they took on a ruling name). It was lucky that the author, or the family in real life, bestowed nicknames on most of the main characters so I could keep all of the Alexanders, Alexandras, Maries and Vladimirs straight. I hope this author continues to write historical fiction. She made the intricate history of the Romanovs enjoyable and untangled the complicated threads of the historical events around the last ruling family of Russia.
rendezvous_with_reading More than 1 year ago
There is SO much history in this novel and the author handles it deftly. The story moves along at a good pace. There are a lot of Nicholas and Alexanders in the Russian family, but the author keeps them all sorted out for you, and the family tree at the beginning of the book is a big help. Maria Feodorovna was eyewitness to some amazing events and upheavel, not just in Russian history, but European history. The narrative really helps you understand just how interconnected and related the royal houses of Europe were at such a pivotal time in history as WWI.I loved that this novel inspired so much additional reading online. The author really researched his subject well and this makes me want to read more of his works. If you love European history, I highly recommend this one.
Fredreeca2001 More than 1 year ago
This is a tragic story narrated by Tsar Nicholas’ mother, Maria. She is a 19 year old Dutch princess when she marries Sasha, the Romanov Heir. When her husband dies and Nicholas becomes the Tsar, she desperately tries to guide him. Due to many various issues..one being Nicholas’ wife...the tragedy cannot be stopped Maria is a character lost in history. I do not think I have read very much about her. However, she should not be forgotten. She was smart and tough. Even though I knew how this story was going to end, I could not stop reading. The would’ve, could’ve, should’ves which follow this tsar, even before he was born, are astounding. From his grandfather, who released the serfs. He thought he was doing a good deed. He just did not understand the serfs had no education or skills. To his father, who refused to have a constitution or to even understand the rebels point of view. Nicholas inherited a mess of a country. He was just not strong enough or smart enough to make the right changes. I have always been a fan of books set in Russia and this one is amazing. I can’t say enough about this book! C. W. Gortner hit it out of the park with this one! This story is so vivid, so well researched and so well written! Don’t miss this one!
CRSK More than 1 year ago
“Don’t you know They’re talkin’ bout a revolution It sounds like a whisper” --“Talkin’ Bout a Revolution,” Tracy Chapman, Songwriters: Tracy Chapman Danish princesses, the daughters of the man who would come to be Denmark’s King Christian IX, Marie Sophie Frederikke Dagmar, Minnie, or Dagmar to her father, and her older sister, Alexandra, Alix, were both predestined to marry into royalty. Alix, of course, would marry first, and married Edward VII (Albert Edward), known to his family as Bertie, the son of Queen Victoria. Minnie meets, and ultimately is courted by Nixa, Nicholas Alexandrovich, Tsarevich of Russia, and a courtship ensues, and suddenly she finds herself busy preparing for a new life. ”Nixa had chosen me, for me. I’d not made it a simple task, but in the end he won my heart—not because he was the tsarevich but because of who he was inside. I fell in love with Nixa Romanov himself, with his gentle spirit and noble soul.” Plans are being made, letters exchanged, professional portraits are taken, and exchanged, and – romantic that he is – he sends her a box of books. Russian fairy tales, poetry, novels by Tolstoy, and a Russian primer. Purchases were made for her trousseau, in order that she could ”travel to my nuptials dressed in the latest styles.” All was going smoothly when the telegram arrived. She notices first the quiver in her mother’s voice when she says her name. Something has happened. Her Nixa has been thrown from his horse, and the situation has worsened. He has asked to see her, and they must leave quickly, he has spinal meningitis. Along the way, praying for a miracle, for his recovery, she thinks of the life together they have planned, but can’t envision, can’t bear to think of a life without him. Nixa, understanding his duty to his country as well, seeks to obtain a promise from Minnie to marry his brother, Sasha, from whom he extracted a matching promise. Eventually she concedes, wanting to offer him some solace in his last minutes. Maria Feodorovna as she came to be known to the world, but still Minnie to family, marries Sasha, Tsesarevich Alexander of Russia, Minnie becoming Grand Duchess Maria Feodorovna of Russia. In time, she will come to be the mother of the last Russian tsar. It is a time of much change, although serfdom had already been done away with, there is much anarchy and the people want more. It is a country, at the start, of those that have everything they need and everything they want, while others live in poverty. And while Maria has grown somewhat accustomed to her more opulent lifestyle, she is moved by the conditions. While she never was as poverty stricken as some of these people, she did not grow up in an affluent home. As much as she tries to persuade Sasha to improve the conditions of the poor, he can’t concern himself with such things. Politics and policies through the generations, the lavish luxury, revolutions, designer ball gowns, manipulations, the gems, dissention, the palaces, the poverty. It’s a land on the brink. Enter Rasputin, and piece-by-piece it all goes to hell, through massive manipulation. Everywhere around her, it seems Maria can’t make anyone see what is happening, but nothing will stop her from trying, and her frustrations abound. This is the first book I have read by C.W. Gortner, who has painted a lovely picture of this woman, from her earlier years to her later years, and this time and place in history.
Penmouse More than 1 year ago
The fictional story of Dagmar of Denmark tells about how she rose from A somewhat noble but in impoverished beginning and later became Empress of Russia.Well We often hear about the Romanov family And how they met their fate in the basement, We don't read much about what happened to Dagmar who married Sasha Romanov became Imperial Highness Maria Feodorovana. The Romanov Empress tells about the trials and travails of Maria known as Minnie and how she almost married one brother, later ended up marrying another brother, bore her children and the loss of her son Nicholas. While historical fiction, the book reads like history and the characters come to life making this book a good read. Recommend. Review written after downloading a galley from NetGalley.
Penmouse More than 1 year ago
The fictional story of Dagmar of Denmark tells about how she rose from A somewhat noble but in impoverished beginning and later became Empress of Russia.Well We often hear about the Romanov family And how they met their fate in the basement, We don't read much about what happened to Dagmar who married Sasha Romanov became Imperial Highness Maria Feodorovana. The Romanov Empress tells about the trials and travails of Maria known as Minnie and how she almost married one brother, later ended up marrying another brother, bore her children and the loss of her son Nicholas. While historical fiction, the book reads like history and the characters come to life making this book a good read. Recommend. Review written after downloading a galley from NetGalley.
Etain More than 1 year ago
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.
MarziesReads More than 1 year ago
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.
Leah_E More than 1 year ago
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.
bookluvr35SL More than 1 year ago
This book is narrated by the mother of Russia's last Tsar, Maria Feodorovna. It begins as Minnie, as she was known by family, was a Danish princess set to marry into the Romanov family. It covers her entire life, the ups and the downs.. I have to say, this book was absolutely fascinating. I knew next to nothing of the Romanov Empire, so this was completely new to me. It was heart-wrenching to read some of the things she and the other members of her family were forced to endure. The book was written in such a way as to make you feel like you were right there witnessing everything first hand. This is definitely a must-read for fans of historical fiction!
MugsyMae More than 1 year ago
I absorbed this book! I've always had an interest in the Romanov family and the Tsars of Russia, but didn't know much about the young Danish princess, Minnie, who became Maria Fedorovna, mother of the last Tsar and one of the most wealthy, powerful, and respected women of her time. Because Minnie is the narrator of the story, we are provided a unique perspective into the Russian aristocracy and life before, during and after WWII. I was captivated from the first page.
CozyOnUp More than 1 year ago
The story Princess Dagmar of Denmark who went on to become the infamous Tsarina Maria Fedorovna. The story covers The life, love and history of “Minnie’s life. While I was familiar with the Romanov Dynasty I have never enjoyed hard core historical novels. However the author has taken a far different approach and takes the liberty of telling the story from Minnie’s perspective. While some of the writing may not be true, the historical events are. This made reading the book far more enjoyable for me and I could relate to her story, heartbreaks, and love of all things family. While a longer book, and knowing full well how the story ultimately ends, you will find that you can’t put it down and don’t want the book to end. A brilliant approach to telling the story. If you like historical fiction, this is your Summer read!
Emily Grace Acres More than 1 year ago
"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."
literarymuseVC More than 1 year ago
“We existed in a dream, enclosed in our lacquered splendor like the varnished miniatures of our fabled Easter eggs, even as the world beyond our gates began to crumble.” The world of Maria (Minnie) Feodorovna begins as a child, then known as Dagmar of Denmark, living in a simple world that dramatically changes as her father becomes the King of Denmark. Maria is grateful for the closeness of her family in the coming years when her sister Alix becomes Queen of England and others marry to other rulers or royalty. Maria marries Sasha or Alexander, Prince of Russia, then becoming part of the four hundred-year-old Romanov dynasty as the Empress of this great nation. Maria’s early years in Russia are full of dancing, fine dining, and the gentle love of her Sasha, gruff but gentle, fiercely devoted to his autocratic role as Emperor of all of Russia. He gives Minnie the first of the Faberge eggs that unfold with multiple layers of grand, gorgeous jewels, special editions not available to the public. The current climate, however, is not kind to the Romanovs. By the time that Alexander realizes that autocratic rule is tearing his nation apart with poverty and civil war, it is too late. Rather than implement the change of a Parliament or Duma, he tragically dies and Nicholas, their eldest son, refuses to authorize his father’s will, a position he insists on upholding as the nation begins to unravel. The influence of the Dowager Empress waxes but quickly wanes with the competing influence of Nicholas’s wife, the Empress Alexandra. Maria is wise beyond her years but cannot control the family scandals as her children, nieces and nephews begin to ignore custom and tradition. The strong-willed, austere Alexandra embraces the peasant monk, Rasputin, who appears to be responsible for repeated healings of the son of Nicholas and Alexandra. Royalty and high society couples dance the nights away, wearing the finest couture encrusted with luxurious jewels, vacationing with each other in a style that resonates with a reminder of “Nero fiddling while Rome burned.” However, the reader shares in Maria’s growing sadness and shock as familial and national events culminate in disaster. Words cannot convey the depth of this comprehensive depiction of both the Empress Maria Feodorovna and the Romanov family. It is truly a brilliant story, replete with virtues and vices, fierce loves and hates, glamor and scandals. This reader hated for this amazing, well-crafted novel to come to an end. Read it once, twice – know this is a classic work of historical fiction, soon to be named among the “best” accounts of the Romanov family in its final days!