A thick, murky exploration of Romanov royalty.
Having already slogged through the female descendents of Queen Victoria in Born to Rule (2005, etc.), Gelardi takes on the equally entangled, incestuous ties of the Romanov rulers. The dense narrative tracks four main protagonists of the imperial family: Empress Marie Feodorovna, a Danish princess also called Dagmar or Minnie and wildly beloved of her adopted country; her sister-in-law, Queen Olga of Greece, married to Dagmar’s brother George, and ruling over a troubled Greece until his assassination in 1913; Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna, the daughter of Emperor Alexander II, who married Queen Victoria’s boorish second son, Alfred, and endured an unhappy marriage in England; and Grand Duchess Maria Pavlovna, a society hostess known as Miechen who patronized writers such as Elinor Glyn, whose His Hour (1910) reveals an “imperial Russia on the brink.” This era proved the last hurrah for the spectacularly wealthy Romanovs, ushering in dangerous, modern currents such as nihilism. Maria Alexandrovna would witness her father’s historic proclamation of the emancipation of the serfs in 1861. With his assassination by extremists in 1881, “Sasha the Bull and Dagmar the adored” ascended to the throne, enjoying a fruitful marriage and children; her warmth and popularity proved a hard act for her ill-fated daughter-in-law to follow. The last half of the book is devoted to the descent into chaos and revolution from 1905 to 1928, forcing a bitter pill on the far-flung dynasty.
Likely to interest only die-hard Romanov scholars. If readers can keep the lineages straight—a big if—the book could prove satisfying.