From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. While providing insight into famously doomed Empress Alexandra Romanov, Gelardi (Born to Rule) focuses on four lesser known but indomitable women who achieved glory at the height of czarist Russia™s global power only to witness its fall to revolution. Danish-born Empress Marie Feodorovna (Nicholas II™s mother) and three of her sisters-in-law: Greek Queen Olga, Grand Duchess Marie Pavlovna, and Duchess Marie Alexandrovna, developed from four extravagantly indulged girls into dominant matriarchs who still could not prevent the decline of royalty and centuries-old traditions. Relating the drama and tragedy of royal life, Gelardi ably weaves in the extended family ties that connected most European rulers, including Queen Victoria, while also including helpful genealogy charts. Gelardi™s narrative framework of the four Romanov women™s long lives works well to explain not only the realities of the European courts and alliances but also the unique aspects of the Russian dynasty, which suffered repeated assassination attempts even during the age of splendor, resulting in young Nicholas II™s observation of his grandfather™s murder, possibly hastening Russia™s slide to revolution. 16 pages of b&w photos. (Feb.)
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Independent historian Gelardi has done her homework, drawing on an impressive array of primary and secondary sources to deliver a joint biography of four women who were part of Russia’s imperial dynasty in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Two of the women, Queen Olga of Greece and Marie Alexandrovna, Duchess of Edinburgh, were born Romanovs, and two, Empress Marie Feodorovna and Grand Duchess Marie Pavlovna, married Romanovs. Against the backdrop of a tumultuous period in Russian history, this is really a book about an extended family, with a family’s sorrows, joys, squabbles, and scandals, albeit on a very grand scale. Even with the helpful genealogical charts, it’s easy to get lost in a thicket of names, and the prose style is often as bland as a press release (As patroness of the Russian Red Cross, Marie Feodorovna oversaw the philanthropic organization’s numerous important projects, assuring that they ran well or came to fruition). Still, this is an absorbing account that will appeal to Russian history buffs and to those who enjoy reading about royals. --Mary Ellen Quinn