Title: The Last Tiara
Author: M. J. Rose
Genre: Historical Fiction
Published: February 2nd, 2021 (Blue Box Press)
Synopsis: From New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller M.J. Rose comes a provocative and moving story of a young female architect in post-World War II Manhattan, who stumbles upon a hidden treasure and begins a journey to discovering her mother’s life during the fall of the Romanovs.
Sophia Moon had always been reticent about her life in Russia and when she dies, suspiciously, on a wintry New York evening, Isobelle despairs that her mother’s secrets have died with her. But while renovating the apartment they shared, Isobelle discovers something among her mother’s effects—a stunning silver tiara, stripped of its jewels.
Isobelle’s research into the tiara’s provenance draws her closer to her mother’s past—including the story of what became of her father back in Russia, a man she has never known. The facts elude her until she meets a young jeweler, who wants to help her but is conflicted by his loyalty to the Midas Society, a covert international organization whose mission is to return lost and stolen antiques, jewels, and artwork to their original owners.
Told in alternating points of view, the stories of the two young women unfurl as each struggles to find their way during two separate wars. In 1915, young Sofiya Petrovitch, favorite of the royal household and best friend of Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaevna, tends to wounded soldiers in a makeshift hospital within the grounds of the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg and finds the love of her life. In 1948 New York, Isobelle Moon works to break through the rampant sexism of the age as one of very few women working in a male-dominated profession and discovers far more about love and family than she ever hoped for.
In M.J. Rose’s deftly constructed narrative, the secrets of Sofiya’s early life are revealed incrementally, even as Isobelle herself works to solve the mystery of the historic Romanov tiara (which is based on an actual Romanov artifact that is, to this day, still missing)—and how it is that her mother came to possess it. The two strands play off each other in finely-tuned counterpoint, building to a series of surprising and deeply satisfying revelations.
Thank you to the publisher, Blue Box Press, and NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
In 1948 New York, Isobelle Moon, an architect, starts renovating her apartment following her mother’s death when she happens upon a box hidden in the wall containing the silver frame of a tiara and some receipts showing that the jewels it once held were sold. Intrigued as to why it was kept hidden, she seeks out the jeweller, hoping to find out more about the life her mother left behind in Russia and always refused to speak of and also about the father whom she has never met. As Isobelle’s search for information intensifies, a parallel timeline unfolds in 1925 Russia, telling the story of Sofiya Petrovich, best friend to the Grand Duchess Olga, and the journey that led her to New York.
Alternating timelines are possibly my all time favourite way of reading historical fiction, especially when there’s a bit of mystery involved. It was narrated in such a fashion that there is something intriguing enough going on in both timelines which ensured that neither lagged or felt boring. The author has portrayed these time periods beautifully, from the grandeur of Tsarist Russia, and the wretched conditions caused by the war that followed, to New York after WWII. This book has clearly been well researched and it shows in the attention to detail in both timelines. In particular, I’ve always been fascinated by Fabergé eggs, so the information about them and about the famous jewellery firm were very interesting to learn. This was an impulsive NetGalley pick and I’m really surprised at how much I ended up enjoying it!
The sole place where this narrative slipped up in my opinion, was character development. There is a very strong plot and the riveting story by and by large kept things together, but it was quite hard to connect with both Isobelle and Sofiya. In the New York timeline, there is a lot of description about Isobelle’s background and role during the war, which might have been interesting under other circumstances, but my focus was on the history of the tiara. To be completely honest, I couldn’t really bring myself to care about Isobelle’s struggles as an architect and the sexism she faces, as it is overshadowed by a much more entertaining plotline, and every time the story turned to her personal life was time away from the real mystery. Sofiya’s character is more engaging, but I felt what we saw of her was still surface level. I also found it rather strange that this story chose to skip over the deaths of the Romanovs, relegating it to a brief paragraph from Sofiya’s perspective years after the fact. Considering Olga was her best friend, I would have expected Sofiya to dwell on it a little more, and the fall of the Romanovs is largely downplayed in this book.
The final twist regarding Isobelle’s father and the secret of the tiara was really well done, and although I would have liked a more conclusive ending, it’s not hard to extrapolate and imagine how things might have turned out. Overall, The Last Tiara was a very satisfying read and I will definitely be looking out for more books by this author in the future. Highly recommended!
The Last Tiara releases on February 2nd, 2021.
Do you plan to read this book? Let me know in the comments below!