“The book is a marvellous read and the last third, from fin de siècle to revolutionary cataclysm, is dazzling . . . The pages on Nicholas and Alexandra are perhaps the best ever, economical in expression, simultaneously poignant and trenchant. Vignettes are used to reveals depths of personality . . . And just as a novelist wields dialogue, Montefiore renders of the birth of each daughter with pithy quotations from memoirs. Here in the sweeping story of the downfall, the salaciousness delivers more than just sparkling passages as in Montefiore’s incisive telling of Rasputin’s machinations and murder or his accounts of the executions of 18 Romanovs in 1918 . . . Thanks to the talents of Simon Sebag Montefiore, Romanov rule will hereafter appear still more improbable and haunted.”
Given how many books have been written about the Romanov family and its members and pretenders, I did wonder briefly whether Simon Sebag Montefiore's 800-plus-page really needed to exist. But it took only the introduction to enslave me, and I have spent the last week or so neglecting practically everyone except for Montefiore's variously ruthless, despotic, sexually voracious, bibulous, unstable, addlepated, and gifted Romanovs. The author's ease of manner, his limber way with historical intricacy and statecraft, and his connoisseur's appreciation of personality, foible, and family unpleasantness -- all that -- render the familiar territory fresh, and the less-familiar memorable.
This is the intimate story of twenty tsars and tsarinas, some touched by genius, some by madness, but all inspired by holy autocracy and imperial ambition. Simon Sebag Montefiore’s gripping chronicle reveals their secret world of unlimited power and ruthless empire-building, overshadowed by palace conspiracy, family rivalries, sexual decadence and wild extravagance, with a global cast of adventurers, courtesans, revolutionaries and poets, from Ivan the Terrible to Tolstoy and Pushkin, to Bismarck, Lincoln, Queen Victoria and Lenin.