Monday, August 20, 2018

REVIEW: The Romanov Empress by C. W. Gortner

The Romanov Empress
by C W Gortner

Publisher: Ballantine Books
Page Count: 431
Release Date: July 10, 2018
Format: Trade Paperback ARC

How got: LibraryThing giveaway

First attention getter: author


From GoodReads:

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.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 5

I always know that when I pick up a C. W. Gortner book, I’m in for a great read. This title is no different. An incredible woman’s journey through glittery extravagance, personal tragedy, and the downfall of an era, the reader gets a fantastic tale that stays with the mind far longer after it’s over.

As always, Gortner does a great job in setting his scenes. Maria’s dazzling wedding, endless parties and charities in the early years, rumblings of unrest in bombings galore, and the eventual takeover of Russia by the Bolsheviks suck the reader in by the author’s generous usage of descriptions and sensory details. He strikes a subtle balance between descriptive passages and dialogue that gives the reader a wonderful imaginary world to explore the events portrayed. All this without going overboard and drowning the reader in too many details.

The only exposure I’ve had to Maria’s story is her fictionalized portrayal in the animated movie Anastasia, and I mean come on, can that really count?? So this woman’s incredible life was a complete mystery to me. I loved getting to know her strength of will, her deep love for her children, how she grew to adore her new country, and her adaptability in ever increasing changes in Russia’s political landscape. My heart hurt for her personal tragedies and crowed in triumph when things went well. I was that drawn into her story with Gortner’s great job at building her character.

I also loved how well we got to know the people in Maria’s life: her husband, father-in-law, children, and grandchildren. The lives of Nicholas Romanov, his empress, children, and Rasputin has been built up so much over the years to be almost legendary and mythical nowadays. I loved getting to know their personalities in all their human glory. I loved how human Gortner made everyone, really. From foreign spouses to cousins to grandchildren, everyone is beautifully fleshed out.

I've been reading or interested in reading Russian history lately. So I had great timing in winning it. I loved exploring how the Russian world of tsarism changed to Bolshevik revolutionary fervor in such a landslide time frame. I mean within only a couple generations, Russia went from a autocratic monarchy to what amounted almost to anarchism until Communism took firm hold. Seeing all that bold change through Maria's strong-willed eyes was a treat. She falls in love with Russia when crowned as one of it's royals and mourns to see it's fall into deprivation, anarchy, and death.

Again, Gortner has created a true masterwork of biographical historical fiction. He creates bold, intriguing characters and explores a world rich in detail and change. He's got another work here I'm more than happy to recommend to any reader, but especially if you love Russian history. This is truly a book to get lost in. Thanks again, Mr. Gortner, for another fantastic work!

Note: Book received for free from LibraryThing giveaway in exchange for an honest review.

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