The intimate correspondence between Nicholas and Alexandra exposes the political naiveté of the ill-fated Romanovs while revealing their deep, loving relationship.
The late 19th century witnessed a spate of assassinations in Russia, which caused the royals to avoid appearing in public unless absolutely necessary. Nicholas avoided confrontation by quietly listening, nodding and smiling, while completely ignoring the advice of his counselors. In an attempt to understand his strange lack of action and/or reaction and to confirm her perception of him, Rounding (Catherine the Great, 2007, etc.) participated in several online personality tests in the guise of Nicholas. Alexandra most likely suffered from Porphyria, and her paranoia, depression and hysteria, as well as the physical symptoms that kept her in bed, separated her not only from her people but also from her own family. Communications, even with her children, were in little notes exchanged almost on a daily basis exhorting them to better themselves and not to upset her. Rounding’s story is built on the letters, especially those between the czar and czarina throughout their marriage. The letters leave no doubt that the two loved each other very much, even to the point of lightly disguised sexual references in their correspondence. The author does not provide an explanation of how Philippe Vachot and his successor, Rasputin, managed to work their way into the family, and the connection of Alix’s dearest friend, Ania Vyrubova, is also indeterminate. The implication is that Ania fancied herself madly in love with the czar, even writing long love letters (destroyed upon receipt) to him. Ania became extremely close to the couple and managed to control them with her constant demands. References to Ania, Philippe and, especially, Rasputin give an indication of how much her “friends” influenced Alix. Rasputin was treated as a godlike seer, influencing even the conduct of World War I battles.
The author’s strong background in Russian history and meticulous research establish her as an excellent biographer, although taking the personality tests in the guise of the Czar could be construed as somewhat presumptive.