cover image The Last Grand Duchess

The Last Grand Duchess

Bryn Turnbull. Mira, $16.99 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-0-7783-1170-6

Turnbull (The Woman Before Wallis) again successfully humanizes a family of powerful historical figures in this look at the end of the Romanov dynasty from the vantage point of Olga Nikolaevna, oldest daughter of last czar Nicholas. The knowledge that almost every reader will have—that Olga, her siblings, and parents will be executed in 1917 after the Russian Revolution—gives the novel a tragic patina from the outset (the ending is previewed by a prologue recounting a prophecy, made at Olga’s birth in 1896, that she would die before the age of 30). Turnbull begins in 1907 with a health scare that demonstrates the limits of royal lineage and power, as Olga’s hemophiliac brother Alexei’s severe illness prompts a fear that he will die young, a tragedy their mother believes was averted by the intercession of mystic Grigori Rasputin. Each chapter brings Olga closer to her doom, as the Romanovs are eventually imprisoned in the ironically named Freedom House. Though the tragic story has been fictionalized effectively in novels such as Carolyn Meyer’s Anastasia and Her Sisters, Turnbull adds to the lore by focusing on a more obscure Romanov, with a gift at making Olga’s situation painfully tangible. This amply justifies taking another look at the lives of the condemned royals. Agent: Kevan Lyon, Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. (Feb.)