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The Romanov Bride by Robert Alexander

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Telynor
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Location: On the Banks of the Hudson

The Romanov Bride by Robert Alexander

Post by Telynor » Sun January 18th, 2009, 8:08 pm

I confess, I'm a sucker for just about anything on Imperial Russia. It doesn't matter what the topic is, art, music, history, a biography -- I'm there. So, when I look at this novel and my experience of it, I have only myself to blame.

Robert Alexander's third novel, <i>The Romanov Bride,</i> takes the story of one of the more intriguing members of the Imperial Family. Born as a member of a minor German princely family, Elizabeth -- or as she was known to her family, Ella -- was one of the numerous granddaughters of Queen Victoria, and would loose her mother at a young age. She was also considered to be the loveliest, and had been courted for a time by her cousin, Wilhelm II. But her choice of a husband confused many -- the aloof, rather chilly, Grand Duke Serge of Russia. He was also one of the most unpopular members of the Romanov family, and would finally meet his end at the hands of assassins.

In his novel, Robert Alexander focuses on episodes from Ella's life that had profound changes on her -- a visit to an ailing family with her mother, the coronation of her brother-in-law, Nicholas II and her sister Alexandra as Tsar and Tsarina of Russia. Her marriage to Serge gets hardly a mention, and it's only when it comes to his assassination do we get to see anything of Ella herself. Then a few years later we have her making the choice that stunned her family and led down the long road to her martyrdom at the hands of the Bolsheviks.

And speaking of Bolsheviks, the other main character is Pavel, a very angry young man who decides to become a revolutionary. We watch as he gets involved with every single big uprising from the Bloody Sunday massacre in St. Petersburg, to Serge's assassination, to where he and Ella's lives intertwine. I've never before read such venemous narrative, and at times, it got to be sounding very much like propoganda, and not much like how a person could realistically be thinking.

Sadly, a lot of what would have made this book appealing to the reader and making Ella more interesting would have been some of the background of her life before Serge's violent death. It would have been interesting to see what had brought the two together, why she decided to marry Serge, the important role the two played in bringing about Nicholas and Alexandra's marriage. Instead, all of the glamour of Tsarist Russia gets dumped to the side, and all the reader gets is the grime and misery of life for the underclasses -- I think that the author forgot that the main reason why people read novels is to escape for a few hours and simply enjoy themselves.

And now to some of the major problems of the novel. For one, when Pavel speaks, it's of a very uneducated, rather naive, man who has the remarkable ability to be in the middle of the high points of the novel -- it stretches the credibility of the story, and counts as too many coincidences for me. Too, what bothered and distracted me the most was that the author used first person narrative for <I>both</I> Pavel and Ella, which tended to make the story confusing. Fortunately, this is a short novel, at just 300 pages in length, and I was happy to finally get to the end, a reaction that I usually don't want to have in a story.

Given the vast amount of new research available on Imperial Russia since the fall of communism, this could have been a far better story than what the reader was given. Instead, the author fell back on using flat characters, cut out huge sections of Ella's life, and then to add insult to the reader, decided to throw in a fictional character that was brutal and cliched. The readers deserve better, especially as Robert Alexander's first novel, <I>The Kitchen Boy,</I> was such an entertaining story.

Overall, just three stars from me. I would think that after two successful novels, the author would know better by now, but sadly, this was not the case.

Other books, nonfiction, are available about Grand Duchess Elizabeth Fyodorovna. Both of them are fairly well-written and to be honest, much more entertaining than this fictional attempt, and I would suggest them over this novel:

<i>Elizabeth: Grand Duchess of Russia</i> by Hugo Mager
<a href="www.epinions.com/content_299955424900">Ella: Princess, Saint, Martyr</a> by Christopher Warwick

Other novels by Robert Alexander include <a href="www.epinions.com/content_104894074500">The Kitchen Boy</a> and <a href="www.epinions.com/content_327510888068">Rasputin's Daughter</a> -- This review by <a href="www.epinions.com/user-donnamr">Donnamr</a>

<i>The Romanov Bride</i>
Robert Alexander
2008; Viking/PenguinGroupUSA
ISBN 978-0-670-01881-9

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