Plot/Idea: Tales of the Romanov Empire is an impressive historical epic novel that chronicles slightly over 300 years of Russian history in short vignette chapters. Some of these sections, however, work better than others: the most successful passages integrate the wider historical context seamlessly into the narrative, and tend to be more character-driven: for example, the chapters about the plight of the Jewish people. The book's relentless brutality can also make for a difficult read at times.
Prose: Anolic's prose is polished, elaborate, and gorgeously descriptive overall. The writing runs into issues with awkwardly inserting information into dialogue, especially when the author is trying to clarify the historical context for readers.
Originality: Tales of the Romanov Empire is a bold, innovative project that compellingly overviews more obscure history, like manipulative bride shows, alongside more well-known material like Russia's dealings with Napoleon. Anolic also has a real knack for imaginative reveals and inserting surprisingly timely elements into the narrative.
Character Development/Execution: Generally, Anolic is more concerned with the wider machinations of history and chronicling linear time than individual character development, which can be to the novel's detriment. Some characters who are given more page time do stand out, though, like the headstrong and emotionally-developed Catherine.
Date Submitted: June 03, 2022
Tales of the Romanov Empire by Tamar Anolic is a collection of short stories, depicting the rise and fall of the Romanov dynasty. It covers a long period of the Russian history between 1613 to 1918.
The book is a fictionalised account of the Russian tsars, which sheds light on the more obscure figures of the Russian history.
It begins with the first Romanov tsar, Mikhail Feodorovich who came to power at the age of sixteen. The boyar council in Muscovy has elected him Tsar, as they believed him to be the only person that can unite them and end the long years of war. We meet him as a shy boy hiding in St Ipatiev monastery with his mother in March 1613. Both of his parents were forcibly tonsured during the war. His mother, formidable Marfa, is against Mikhail accepting the throne of Muscovy.
“It gives me great pleasure to welcome you all here today, and to act as the Tsar's representative for this tercentenary. Three hundred years of the Romanov dynasty – it's an incredible thing to witness, to lead, to celebrate.”
And that is what this novel does, leads the reader through the 300 years of the Romanov dynasty in small vignettes of each progressive Tsar beginning with the young 16-year-old Mikhail Feodorovich and ending with the tragic deaths of Tsar Nicholas II and his family at the hands of the Bolsheviks.
Each tale, or vignette, is done in a clever way, with rich, enticing prose which sweeps a reader into the effluent and sometimes turbulent world of Russian nobility. As with most noble families throughout history, and in many other countries, Russia had its fair share of power-hungry family members seeking the throne and finding ways of usurpation in sometimes rather bloody ways.
This book is very educational, giving slices of the Romanov's lives and leading a reader by the hand through time without the passage of time feeling jarring or unsatisfying as each story closes and a new one begins. Rather, you are intrigued to do a little research on your own to look further into the different episodes, and Ms Anolic's skill as a researcher shines forth in the way she combines the history with the storytelling with such ease. Along with some wonderful scene setting, such as:
The Arctic wind that swept over the Russian capital made the air feel even colder than its minus eight degree temperature. Everything – from the previously turbulent waters of the Neva to the city's stately square – was covered in thick ice. Sentries wore heavy black cloaks to their ankles, and still they shivered in the winter air. There was little color to be found in the city. The sentries' boxes were normally white, black, and yellow beacons that shone out even in the darkest of nights. Now they were obscured by the white of the winter that surrounded them. When fog swept in from the sea and a thick mist descended from the heavens, St. Petersburg became a city of ghosts.