When Princess Dagmar of Denmark comes to her new home in Russia at the age of 19, she loses her name, her home, everything she knows. But she comes to love Russia, her dead fiance’s brother (whom she is forced to marry) and makes a life for herself as the Empress Maria Feodorovna.

When I started this book, I imagined I was reading yet another story about Alix, the last empress of Russia, the wife of Nicholas II. Instead, this book is about Nicholas II’s mother.

C. W. Gortner has done a yeoman’s job with his research and this novel is utterly fascinating. I had no idea that even in 1866, when Maria Feodorovna appeared in Russia as a newly-wed 19-year-old, that there were already threats against the Royal family, so much so that they were obliged to be closely guarded even when they went for a walk.

As the pressure against the royals increased, it drove them indoors and away from the Russian people, so that they became even more insulated and unknowing. The scene where Maria’s father-in-law Alexander II of Russia is assassinated in 1881 is one of the most chilling I have ever read.

So one of the messages that comes across in this wonderful novel is that the Russian Royal family had plenty of notice – 50 years in fact – that they were unpopular, but they did nothing about it.

Highly recommended. 5 stars.

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