Royal Lives | Fiction Reviews

Gortner, C.W. The Romanov Empress. Ballantine. Jul. 2018. 464p. ISBN 9780425286166. $28; ebk. ISBN 9780425286173. F

Gortner, who has chronicled the lives of the Tudor, Medici, and Borgia noble families and most recently Hollywood royalty, in the form of Marlene Dietrich (Marlene), dives into the dramatic final years of the Romanov dynasty. Maria Feodorovna, wife to Tsar Alexander III and mother to Tsar Nicholas II, has a singular viewpoint on the drastic changes in Europe at the turn of the 20th century. Born to a royal though impoverished family in Denmark, she embraces a new religion, a new language, and a new land in order to wed the heir to the Russian throne. He dies shortly before their wedding and she marries his brother instead. Decades of decadence and family strife are followed by immense political upheaval. Assassinations, affairs, exile, and illness take their toll on the royal family’s ability to govern a changing Russia. Through the voice of Maria, Gortner succeeds in adding a new perspective to the well-known story of Nicholas, Alexandra, and Rasputin. As a sister, wife, mother, and empress, she is a fierce and dynamic narrator. VERDICT A solid recommendation for readers of historical fiction, especially those who favor the lives of kings and queens. [July 16 marks the centennial of the murder of Tsar Nicholas and his family by the Bolsheviks.—Ed.]—Catherine Lantz, Univ. of Illinois at Chicago Lib.

redstarWeir, Alison. Jane Seymour, the Haunted Queen. Ballantine. (Six Tudor Queens). May 2018. 576p. ISBN 9781101966549. $28; ebk. ISBN 9781101966556. F

Often overshadowed by her infamous predecessor, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour is often remembered as Henry VIII’s meek third wife who died after finally giving him a son. Here, historian and novelist Weir (The Life of Elizabeth I) paints a fuller picture of Jane’s life that attempts to answer lasting questions about her desires and choices, and the role she played in Anne’s fatal fall from grace. Weir resists casting Jane as a mere pawn of her ambitious family, instead showing how her deep religious faith and time spent serving Katherine of Aragon as a young woman may have helped her justify her romance with Henry as an irresistible opportunity to play a part in her country’s destiny and right past wrongs. As with the earlier novels in the “Six Tudor Queens” series, about Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, Weir focuses tightly on the sole perspective of her protagonist, thereby finding enough relatively fresh territory to keep even die-hard Tudor buffs interested. A fascinating afterword sheds light on Weir’s departures from the confirmed historical record and on the additional research she did for this novel, including an investigation of how exactly Jane died. VERDICT Highly recommended for fans of the period. [See Prepub Alert, 11/26/17.]—Mara Bandy Fass, Champaign P.L., IL

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