Hello readers! Welcome to my stop on the Harlequin Trade Publishing Winter 2022 Historical Fiction Blog Tour for The Last Grand Duchess by Bryn Turnbull! Thank you to Harlequin Trade Publishing and the author for giving me the opportunity to be a part of this tour.
Title: The Last Grand Duchess
Author: Bryn Turnbull
Genre: Historical Fiction
Published: February 8th, 2022 (MIRA Books)
Synopsis: Grand Duchess Olga Romanov comes of age amid a shifting tide for the great dynasties of Europe. But even as unrest simmers in the capital, Olga is content to live within the confines of the sheltered life her parents have built for and her three sisters: hiding from the world on account of their mother’s ill health, their brother Alexei’s secret affliction, and rising controversy over Father Grigori Rasputin, the priest on whom the Tsarina has come to rely. Olga’s only escape from the seclusion of Alexander Palace comes from her aunt, who takes pity on her and her sister Tatiana, inviting them to grand tea parties amid the shadow court of Saint Petersburg. Finally, she glimpses a world beyond her mother’s Victorian sensibilities – a world of opulent ballrooms, scandalous flirtation, and whispered conversation.
But as war approaches, the palaces of Russia are transformed. Olga and her sisters trade their gowns for nursing habits, assisting in surgeries and tending to the wounded bodies and minds of Russia’s military officers. As troubling rumours about her parents trickle in from the Front, Olga dares to hope that a budding romance might survive whatever the future may hold. But when tensions run high and supplies run low, the controversy over Rasputin grows into fiery protest, and calls for revolution threaten to end 300 years of Romanov rule.
At turns glittering and harrowing, The Last Grand Duchess is story about dynasty, duty, and love, but above all, it’s the story of a family who would choose devotion to each other over everything—including their lives.
Thank you to the publisher, Harlequin Trade Publishing, Harper Collins Canada and NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
The eldest daughter of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, Grand Duchess Olga Romanov lives with her parents and siblings in the Alexander palace far from the glitter and intrigue of St Petersburg’s court. They have all led a very sheltered and secluded life, owing to their mother’s dislike of high society, but also to hide the secret of their brother Alexei’s hemophilia. The only one who can check his illness is the mystic Rasputin, whom the Tsarina has come to increasingly rely on, turning a deaf ear to the unsavoury rumours and rising controversy surrounding him, which also contributes to the unrest stirring in the capital. As war breaks out, Olga and her sisters devote themselves to nursing the wounded Russian soldiers returning from the front, but the people are dissatisfied and no longer happy with the Imperial rule, especially not with the severe shortages due to the war. When the unrest explodes in violence, it brings revolution to their doorstep, threatening to topple generations of Romanov rule.
Most historical fiction novels based on the Romanovs during the Russian Civil War tend to focus on Anastasia, and I’ve read one other novel with Tatiana as the main character, so I was really excited when I saw that this one was from Olga’s perspective. My favourite part about this book was how the Romanovs were portrayed. In previous books I’ve read about them, their story was always portrayed from the more tragic angle, which it absolutely was, but I’ve never seen the lead up to the events delved into much. Whereas here, it is clearly portrayed how incompetent and terrible a pair of rulers Nicholas and Alexandra actually were, and how their poor decisions and refusal to see the truth led to the grim fate of their family. At the same time, it also shows that they were devoted parents, and how close knit a family they all were.
Olga’s arc was marvellously written. Though she was the oldest, her sheltered upbringing did her no favours, and she comes off as rather immature initially. The vicious rumours flying around the capital regarding her family do eventually make it to her ears and she sees glimpses of how bad things really are for the common people, but continues to believe that her parents are doing their best for Russia. As time goes on and her character grows and matures, we see that she is more aware of the political situation than is evident at first. She remains staunchly loyal to her parents and family even as she begins to understand what their choices will cost them all in the end. Going into this book, you already know what’s going to happen, but seeing it from this angle is what made it so impactful.
I didn’t expect this to be a dual timeline narrative going in, but I would say that this style of narration had both advantages and disadvantages in this particular book. The mood of the book is pretty tense right from the beginning, so going back and forth from a time when World War I was just starting to break out to the time immediately following Nicholas’ abdication with the Romanov’s fate looking increasingly bleak by the day, was an excellent contrast. On the other hand, these two timelines are barely 5 years apart, even lesser by the end of the book, and it made it harder and harder to differentiate which timeline a chapter was in without turning the pages back to look at the start of the chapter.
From a factual perspective, I didn’t really come across anything I didn’t know in this book and based on other books I’ve read set in this era, it stuck to the known narrative pretty closely except for the few deviations noted by the author in the afterword. The Last Grand Duchess took a unique approach to this well known story in a beautifully written, well researched and gripping read. This would be a great choice for historical fiction fans, especially anyone interested in the last Romanovs. Highly recommended!
The Last Grand Duchess releases today February 8th, 2022.
About the Author
Bryn Turnbull is the bestselling author of The Woman Before Wallis. Equipped with a master’s of letters in creative writing from the University of St. Andrews, a master’s of professional communication from Ryerson University and a bachelor’s degree in English literature from McGill University, Bryn focuses on finding stories of women lost within the cracks of the historical record. She lives in Toronto.
Do you plan to read this book? Let me know in the comments below!