Book Review: The Romanov Empress

The Romanov Empress by C.W. Gortner

First line: “We should dress alike,” I said on that afternoon when life changed forever.

Summary: In the latest historical novel by C.W. Gortner, we get the story of Minnie, the mother of the last tsar of Russia. Minnie is a princess of Denmark and destined to marry for an alliance. That marriage is to the future tsar of Russia, Alexander III. However, when trouble strikes the country the new tsar and tsarina must find a way to navigate the changing political climate before the country revolts. When Alexander dies unexpectedly, leaving their inexperienced son, Nicholas as tsar, Minnie must try to guide him before they lose their country forever.

Highlights: I found Minnie to be a fascinating woman. I knew next to nothing about her other than what is portrayed in the movie, Anastasia.  (She is the grandmother who is desperately searching to find out if her son, Nicholas, and his family survived the Russian Revolution). She sounds like a strong woman who had to try to survive in a very turbulent time. Russia has always been a country with struggles and that fact that she lived through them shows how smart she really was.

“I’d finally found the means to be useful to my adopted country, to give back to Russia something of what she’d given to me.”

It was difficult to keep track of all the relationships and marriages. I was constantly checking family trees and Wikipedia to figure out which character was which and how they played into the story of the Romanovs. Even knowing how the story ends, the Russian Revolution, I kept hoping for better for them.

Gortner does an amazing job of describing the opulence of the Romanov court. I would love to see the Winter Palace and St. Petersburg. There is so much history and culture in Russia. However, the riches and luxury that the tsar and his court lived in is hard to imagine. How can someone live like that? It just boggles the mind. It is easy to see why the peasants revolted. They were starving while the royal family drank champagne.

I remember when reading other novels about the Romanovs, that Alexandra was not very well liked.  Gortner gives us a look into why.  She seemed shy and anxious.  But Minnie, as dowager empress with lots of experience with the Russian people, tried to teach her how to act and gain their respect.  Their relationship was very volatile.  It was sad to see how much dislike there was between the two women.

Throughout the novel I was thrilled to see how well the author brought the history to life.  This is one of the best written historical novels I have read in a long time.

Lowlights: Do I have to have any lowlights? I think not. This book was great. Historical fiction is and always will be my favorite genre.

FYI: Perfect for readers of Philippa Gregory and Alison Weir.

Book Review: Spinning Silver

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

First line: The real story isn’t half as pretty as the one you’ve heard.

Summary: When Miryem takes over her father’s money lending business she excels at it. She has a talent for making silver into gold. Slowly bringing her family out of poverty, she garners a reputation but it may not be as all she thought it would be. She draws the attention of the Staryk king, a creature of ice and cold who preys on the people of Vysnia.

Highlights: This book is beautiful! It has classic fairy tale themes, Rumpelstiltskin, and the feeling of a Russian folktale. I wish that I had read this in the dead of winter because it is very atmospheric. The story is dark and rich. So much detail and story is packed into it that it takes a while to digest. This is not a summery beach read but one that needs to be savored.

There are at least six points of view throughout the plot and each character has a symbol to represent them. It is a nice touch to separate the narratives. Each character brings their own voice and thoughts to the story. Miryem is the moneylender’s daughter who is stolen away by the Staryk king. Wanda, the servant girl, gives us a peak into the prejudices of the village folk but also the wonder of girl who has been given a chance to better herself. Her younger brother, Stepon, is the innocent who watches and does not completely understand what is happening around him. Irina, the daughter of a duke, has been forgotten and neglected until her father hatches a plan to ensnare the Tsar and therefore putting her in danger. The young tsar, Mirnatius, has a dark secret. And finally Magreta, the nurse who raised Irina and is determined to keep her young charge safe.

With so many plot lines intertwining you would think it would get confusing but it does not. They all come together and conclude the story. The last few chapters are fast paced and the perfect way to end. Be prepared to spend time with these characters in this world. It is a hearty read but worth it.

The Staryk was a tale for a winter’s night.

Lowlights: I love the detail of the story and the characters. Every few chapters though felt a little longer than they needed to be. I am a fan of short chapters so when one stretched on for 50+ pages it took me a little longer to get through.

FYI: Read Uprooted by Naomi Novik. It is fantastic! It is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast which is my favorite fairy tale.

Book Review: The Girl in the Tower

The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden

First line: A girl rode a bay horse through a forest late at night.

Summary: Vasya has been cast out of her village as a witch. She does not want to spend her life behind a convent walls or trapped in a marriage. She wants freedom and adventure. With the help of the frost demon, Morozko, and her loyal horse, Solovey, she sets out on her own dressed as a boy. When she wanders into a burned village and discovers that bandits are raiding the countryside and stealing young girls she sets out to save the missing children. After her rescue mission, she gains the admiration of the Grand Prince of Moscow. With the help of her elder siblings, she keeps her gender hidden from the elite of Moscow. However, with the mysterious arrival of an unknown lord, Vasya starts to worry that the danger has worked its way into the courts of Grand Prince.

Highlights: Atmospheric. I can feel the cold of a Russian winter while reading the adventures of Vasya. Vasya is a wonderful heroine. She is not beautiful. She wants more out of life than the traditional trappings of her gender. I love the frost demon, Morozko. He is complicated and intriguing. I am glad that we got to see more of his relationship with Vasya. The writing is poetic and beautiful. I love that the author provides a glossary at the end to help the reader understand the terminology and characters. This one was filled with action and danger. I loved the first book and the second did not disappoint.

Lowlights: Nothing.

FYI: The second book in The Winternight Trilogy.