Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Last Romanov

The Last Romanov, by Dora Levy Mossanen.

A tiny drop of blood blossoms in his navel, bubbling like a tiny underground well.

The six-week-old Tsarevich is bleeding.

The Empress presses her lips to her son's chest, slides a trembling finger across the blood worming down his belly. Moon-pale and slightly out of breath, her eyes seek the icons crowding her room to rest on the image of Our Lady of Tsarskoe Selo. Falling to her knees in front of her favorite saint, her lips move in silent prayer. She rests her wet cheeks on the lady's image, begging forgiveness. She had prayed too hard for a son, begged for an heir to the throne, forced God into submission, and He punished her by giving her a sick Tsarevich.


I knew nothing about Russian history from this time, for the most part, but this story is based on true events, while inserting a fictional character into their midst, and the way it moved between past (late 1800s and early 1900s) and present (1991) was great. Darya Borodina is of royal blood herself, and after her mother and father die in an accident, the Tsarina Alexandra, wife to Tsar Nicholas II, invites her to stay with them and help care for her son, the Tsarevich Alexander, who is a hemophiliac and needs constant looking-after.

Darya stays with the family, including Alexander's sisters (the four Grand Duchesses), up until the very end, when there is high political tension and the royal family (SPOILER) is murdered, in July 1918. I made the mistake of reading the author's post-script before finishing the book and found this out, and then was curious as to how these events, which were real, would come about.

Darya also is having an affair with Avram Bensheimer, a Jew, who works in the palace as an artist in the haven the royal family has established there for them. Jewish people were highly persecuted in 1900s Russia, and if the Tsar and Tsarina knew of this affair, they would surely banish Darya from court.

I found the story to be very interesting, especially since most of it was true. Darya is a made-up character, but there were a few family servants that died that day in 1917 as well, who had volunteered to stay with the family. The 1917 execution was not entirely out of the blue - there had been political discontent for some time - but no one was expecting it, and it was a massacre.

The details in this book, as well, are very good, and the writing flows easily. Darya is a multifaceted character with an opal eye that allows her to see more than a normal person would, including the Ancient One who guides her through life, and she uses these powers to help the Tsarevich, her favorite, live day to day with hemophilia. There is another character - Grigori Rasputin - who is a monk with "special powers," and helps Alexander as well.

You can read more about Nicholas II on Wikipedia, too, to get a further sense of his real life and the events surrounding it.

The Last Romanov will be released on April 3, 2012.

Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5.

Disclosure: I received an ARC of this novel to review. All opinions listed, however, are my own.

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