Title: The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion & the Fall of Imperial Russia
Author: Candace Fleming
Genre: Children’s non-fiction, history
Publisher: Schwartz & Wade Books
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Source: Review copy from the publisher
Number of pages: 253
First line: On the night of February 12, 1903, a long line of carriages made its way through the Imperial Gates of St. Petersburg’s Winter Palace.
Cover blurb: He was Tsar Nicholas II of Russia: the wealthiest monarch in the world, who ruled over 130 million people and one-sixth of the earth’s land surface, yet turned a blind eye to the abject poverty of his subjects.
She was Empress Alexandra: stern, reclusive, and painfully shy, a deeply religious woman obsessed with the corrupt mystic Rasputin.
Their daughters were the Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Marie, and Anastasia: completely isolated and immature, girls who wore identical white dresses and often signed joint letters as OTMA, the initials of their first names.
Their only son was Tsarevich Alexei: youngest of the Romanovs, heir to the throne, a hemophiliac whose debilitating illness was kept secret from the rest of the world.
Award-winning author Candance Fleming brilliantly showcases the extraordinary lives of the royal family, from their opulent ubringings to the crumbling of their massive empire, and finally to their tragic murders. Using captivating photos and compelling first-person accounts throughout, Fleming deftly maneuvers between the extravagant lives of the Romanovs and the plight of Russia’s poor masses – the starving peasant farmers, the factory workers toiling long hours for little pay, and the disillusioned soldiers fighting in the trenches of World War I. Readers will be transported back to a remarkable time when both a family and an empire came tumbling down.
I picked what I thought was the worst possible time to be reading a work of non-fiction: in the middle of a family visit with my sister and her boys. In my experience, nonfiction requires a bit more concentration, more of a quiet atmosphere, in order for me to become engaged and not get distracted while reading. Fortunately, The Family Romanov reads like a stirring work of historical fiction, and I was able to shut everything out and simply read (whenever a few minutes presented themselves).
This was my first experience with the work of author Candace Fleming, and I am absolutely thrilled to find a writer who is passionate about history and is writing compelling nonfiction books for teens. Before I started, I knew a little bit about the Romanovs – enough to know that I was interested in learning more – but that was about it. As I read, I was immediately drawn into the story of this family, and was compelled to keep reading right up until the end, even though I knew the doomed fate that awaited them.
One thing that kept going through my head as I read was how ill-equipped Nicholas was to rule. His father had excluded him from matters of state, and so when Nicholas became Tsar, he had no idea how to run the country. And even though he had good advisers around him, he ignored their counsel and made very poor decisions. He often left the running of the country up to his wife, Alexandra, who was in the thrall of the mystic Rasputin, and who chose to completely ignore the state of the nation as it crumbled around her. So many times Nicholas could have made decisions that may have changed the course of history, averted the Soviet Revolution, and given Russia a chance at a true democracy. Instead, he chose to hide his head in the sand, to ignore the plight of the majority of his citizens, and therefore stoke the fires of revolution.
If you are at all interested in the fall of the Russian Empire, and the tragic story of the Romanovs, this is a must-read. I am looking forward to reading Fleming’s book on the Lincolns next.