I’ll admit that I haven’t done tons of reading of Russian history, but what I’ve read has fascinated me. It all started with the book Nicholas & Alexandra (Amazon) (AbeBooks), which I got from a thrift store when I was a teenager. There was a time when I read anything to do with the Romanov family and their demise. Then I discovered Catherine the Great and read about her quite a bit. Now I’m trying to fill in the holes before and after those reigns. The Romanov Empress: A Novel of Tsarina Maria Feodorovna (Amazon) (AbeBooks) tells the story of the mother of the last czar of Russia.
“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.”
One of the reasons I got this audiobook, besides the subject content, was the narrator, Katharine Lee McEwan. I love her voice and all it’s inflections and ability to make her voice sound like a myriad of voices. Once again, she does a top-notch job and the story flew by with her deft narration.
Even though I knew the outcome of The Romanov Empress, I still found the book compelling. I learned a lot about Maria Feodorovna, the wife to one czar and mother to another, the last czar of Russia, Nicholas II. Gortner is able to show how Minnie, the Danish woman, developed a great understanding of the Russian people. She became shrewd about Russian politics, but still enjoyed Russian society, fashion, and interior decorating. The author also did a masterful job of capturing how I imagine St. Petersburg society operated during the time leading up to the Russian Revolution.
Core to the book’s heart is Minnie’s relationship with her daughter-in-law, Alexandra, in how Alexandra’s reclusiveness made her seem snobbish, to the way she kept the children away from others, to her reliance on the mystic Rasputin. It was the relationship with the “mad monk” that tarnished her to St. Petersburg society and no amount of counsel from Minnie makes Alexandra move from her position.
Minnie’s relationship with Nicky, Czar Nicholas II, isn’t much better. But once a man is grown and has a wife of his own, he’s not one to take his mother’s advice. Which is maddening because Nicholas keeps making one bad decision after another regarding the ruling of Mother Russia. Soon it is too late to turn back. Minnie knows it well before Nicholas realizes it. It’s hard to watch your children make mistakes with their lives and the lives of others, yet that’s exactly what Minnie has to do.
We all know how the book ends, After listening to the author’s afterward, I felt he mostly stuck with the facts known, pointed out where he took certain liberties, and then gave an account of what happened to the characters when the book ended. You don’t have to be a fan of Russian History to appreciate this well-written historical book.
This is the 26th Audiobook I’ve listened to as part of my 2021 Audiobook Challenge.
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C.W. Gortner is, IMO, one of today’s finest historical fiction authors. He’s meticulous with his research, and knows how to put just the right amount of it into his stories. He’s got a real gift for bringing his characters to life. Thanks for this great review!
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