The Romanov Empress: A Novel of Tsarina Maria Feodorovna. C. W. Gortner. Random House Publishing Group/Ballantine. July 2018. 464 pp. ISBN#: 9780425286166.
“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 healing 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!