101 years have passed since the murder of the Imperial Family of Russia at Yekaterinburg, but their appeal has not diminished. Indeed, interest in the Romanovs is at a historic high as television and the Internet age enables ever more devotees to discover the sepia-tinged appeal of Tsar Nicholas II and his doomed family.
Less attention is devoted to the members of Nicholas’s family of origin, including many who survived the slaughter of 1917, escaping Russia for lives of exile in Europe and North America. And of these, no one is more fascinating than Nicholas's own mother, Dowager Empress Maria Fyodorovna, the Danish princess who captured the hearts of Russia when she arrived to marry the heir to the throne, Grand Duke Alexander Alexandrovich in 1866.
's latest novel, The Romanov Empress: A Novel of Tsarina Maria Feodorovna
(Ballentine Books, 2018) goes a long way to addressing this disparity. The novel is an exceptionally well-researched, masterfully crafted account of Maria Fyodorovna from her upbringing in a cozy and modest childhood home in Denmark — which she shares with her sister, Alix, destined to be Britain's Queen Alexandra — to her final bittersweet moments in Russia in 1918.
Gortner endows Maria Fyodorovna with the ability to see more than one side of an argument, and through her interaction with her father-in-law, the Tsar Liberator Alexander II, the reader gets keen insight into the urgent need for political and social reform in Imperial Russia.
The tragic early death of Maria Feodorovna’s husband leaves her eldest son, Nicholas, woefully unprepared to assume the throne. Gortner deftly draws the inevitable clash of wills between Maria and Alexandra, 'Nicholas's stubborn but strong-willed wife, who comes to entirely rely upon the Mad Monk Rasputin. This struggle between the two women successfully drives the second half of the novel as war and revolution begin to overshadow the gilded Romanov world.
Gortner's research shines through The Romanov Empress
, and the resulting novel is several notches above many other attempts to recreate the hermetically sealed world of Tsarskoye Selo and the Winter Palace in terms of both quality and accuracy. His cameo portraits of the sprawling tribe of Romanovs are spot on — particularly that of Maria Feodorovna’s sister-in-law and sidekick, the redoubtable Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna the Elder. But at the heart of the novel is Maria Fyodorovna herself — by no means perfect but trying hard to do what is right for the family and the country she loves in almost impossible circumstances. Romanov fans will rejoice in this welcome addition to the canon.
C.W. Gortner holds an MFA in Writing with an emphasis in Renaissance Studies from the New College of California, as well as an A.A. from the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in San Francisco. In 2012, he became a full-time writer following the international success of his novels. In his extensive travels to research his books, he has danced a galliard at Hampton Court, learned about organic gardening at Chenoceaux, and spent a chilly night in a ruined Spanish castle. His books have garnered widespread acclaim and been translated into twenty-one languages to date, with over 400,000 copies sold. A sought-after public speaker. C.W. has given keynote addresses at writer conferences in the U.S. and abroad. He is also a dedicated advocate for animal rights. Learn more about C.W. Gortner by following him on Twitter
, where he has amassed an impressive array of Romanov photographs.
Jennifer Eremeeva is an American expatriate writer who divides her time between Riga, Latvia, and New England. Jennifer writes about travel, food, lifestyle, and Russian history and culture with bylines in Reuters, Fodor’s, The Moscow Times, and Russian Life. She is the in-house travel blogger for Alexander & Roberts, and the award-winning author of Lenin Lives Next Door: Marriage, Martinis, and Mayhem in Moscow. Follow Jennifer on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook or visit jennifereremeeva.com for more information.