I cannot believe how long it took me to read this book. Thirty. Days. That has to be my record. This has nothing to do with the content. This book was fascinating. But it was also incredibly dense, as Montefiore packed over 300 years of Roman history into one novel. So I had to take my time, to keep everyone straight in my head.
I want to flat out say right now that I am not in a position to review this book. I read very little non-fiction and so I don’t have anything to which to compare this novel. However, I will be talking about the things I liked about The Romanovs. I just don’t feel like I can offer any critiques as this is not my usual genre and so, I don’t know how these books usually go. But I will do my best, so bear with me.
My absolute favourite thing about this book was its prologue. Montefiore opens The Romanovs with a dual timeline introduction. The chapter alternates between the very first of the Romanov line, Michael, and the very last, Nicholas II. We see the battle that the Russian autocracy had to get Michael to accept being tsar back in 1613 and then Nicholas’ tragic end over 300 years later. And all of this side-by-side. It was brilliant and drew me in immediately.
I also thoroughly enjoyed Montefiore’s presentation of history. He gave us the grand context of each ruler but also brought the scope of vision back down to each ruler’s personal life. We got to see how each and every Romanov fit into their landscape and how they juggled their family lives as well as their public lives as tsars and tsarinas.
This was important as Montefiore managed to give each and every Romanov a distinct personality and voice. There was no real way to confuse any of the Romanovs as they were all given narrative room to be themselves. They were not reduced to their accomplishments and defeats. Instead we learned about lovers and happy marriages and obsessions with freak shows and friendships. Montefiore painted pictures of these people so they didn’t just feel like dates and lists of facts. Especially because he included snippets of conversations throughout the book that made The Romanovs feel more like a story than a history book.
And, unfortunately, that is all I can tell you. These are the things that made an impression on me. Well these and the fact that all leaders seem to be obsessed with gaining more territory while forgetting to properly look after their existing population. I mean, did no one learn anything from the fall of the Roman Empire?
All in all, this was a fantastic novel. I would highly recommend it. Yes, it is dense. And yes, a lot of the Russian surnames are basically the same, with only a few letters’ difference. But getting a glimpse into Russian history, and on such personal levels, was amazing. I thoroughly enjoyed spending some time with the Romanovs and I hope that some of you will get to as well.