Book review: The Romanov Empress

Romanov EmpressThe Romanov Empress
by  C. W. Gortner
Ballantine Books

Genre: Historical Fiction
431 pages


When I hear about the House of Romanov, I automatically think of Tsar Alexander Nicholas II, his wife, and his children. So when I saw The Romanov Empress, the latest book by Gortner, an author whose writing I really appreciate (see for instance my review of Mademoiselle Chanel), I thought it was about one of the girls. So I was at first a bit disappointed to discover the empress in question is actually Maria Feodorovna, Nicholas’s mother. However, the quality if the book counterbalanced my disappointment.

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).

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.
Chapter 33

The author presents an interesting take on Tsar Nicholas II’s wife Alexandra and on Rasputin.

Of course, the book had also to include so-called “doctor” Philippe Nizier Vachod, a French occultist from Lyon. I met him in another book: Occult Paris

As usual, Gortner excels at telling history through the eyes and experience of women.

The Afterword tells what happened later to all the major characters.

VERDICT: Powerful historical fiction presentation of Maria Feodorovna, her family, and all of Russia’s and Europe’s history during her long life.

rating system rating systemrating systemrating system

What’s your favorite book on the Romanovs,
fiction or nonfiction?


In full compliance with FTC Guidelines, I received this ebook free of charge from the publisher through Netgalley. I was in no way compensated for this post as a reviewer, and the thoughts are my own.


2 thoughts on “Book review: The Romanov Empress

What do you think? Share your thoughts, and I will answer you. I will also visit your own blog

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.