Review: The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia by Candace Fleming

The Family Romanov by Candace Fleming

When Russia’s last tsar, Nicholas II, inherited the throne in 1894, he was unprepared to do so. With their four daughters (including Anastasia) and only son, a hemophiliac, Nicholas and his reclusive wife, Alexandra, buried their heads in the sand, living a life of opulence as World War I raged outside their door and political unrest grew into the Russian Revolution.

Title: The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia
Author: Candace Fleming
Source: Finished copy via Random House
Publication date: July 8, 2014

I received The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

My interest in history comes from my father, who teaches high school history. His concentration is American history and being American, I know mostly American history as well. Still, I’ve always been interested in the Romanov family so I jumped at the chance to review The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia when I was offered the book for review.

The front of the book includes both a family tree and a map of Russia in 1900. I spent a lot of time looking over the family tree, taking note of the relationship between George V of England — the current Queen Elizabeth’s grandfather — and the last Tsar of Russia, Nicholas II. They were first cousins through their mothers, sisters Alexandra and Dagmar of Denmark. Of course I knew from school that all these royal families are related, but it’s fascinating to see the relationships displayed on a family tree. I only wish it had been more detailed! He’s not included on the tree in the book, but Queen Elizabeth’s husband Prince Philip is related to the Romanovs in several of his ancestral lines as well.

The Family Romanov details the lives of the last Romanov Tsar and his family, from his childhood to meeting and marrying his wife Alexandra, to marriage and children. Nicholas and Alexandra had five children: Olga, Tatiana, Marie, Anastasia, and finally a boy they desperately needed, the future of the dynasty: Alexei. Alexei had hemophilia, a fact they tried to keep secret. His hemophilia meant that Alexei was not allowed to the freedom of other boys his age. There were no treatments for hemophilia at the time, so the risk of death was high. He had to be extremely careful not to get even a bruise or he could bleed for days.

It’s not hard to understand why Alexi was coddled. Not only was he a hemophiliac, but he was also the youngest, the baby of the family, and the future Tsar. His parents’ treatment of him led him to be lazy and undisciplined, yet his sisters were no better. They were spoiled, uninterested in what little education they were offered, and immature. Their parents did them no favors by isolating them so much from the outside world. It’s frustrating from a twenty-first century American point-of-view to see how little advantage they took of how many opportunities they had.

Some of the chapters end with excerpts from autobiographies written by former peasants, hardworking people who lived in squalor. The excerpts show the contrast between the poverty they experienced and the luxury of the Romanovs, who lacked for nothing. The Romanovs lived in a palace with one hundred rooms — and this was their smaller of two palaces in Tsarkoe Selo. Isolated from the realities of the world, they spent their days playing tennis, hiking, dancing, and bicycling. The poor crowded into boarding houses, working twelve or more hours a day in factories, with little more to eat than cabbage soup that had, if they were lucky that day, a little meat in it.

The personal stories and anecdotes about lives of the Romanovs were my favorite parts of the book because you don’t learn them in history class. War and politics are not as interesting to me, but a book on the family would not be complete without dealing with the political situation of Russia at the time. Nicholas had not been prepared by his father for his future as the Tsar, so he was ill-equiped to handle the role. He almost seemed not to be paying attention as Russia slipped into unrest. From there he led Russia into World War I, with a Russian military short on weapons, ammunition, and clothing. Food shortages and inflation led to uprisings within Russia as starving citizens, fed up after years of poverty, took to the streets. Nicholas and Alexandra ignored the issue for as long as they could, but three hundred years of the Romanov dynasty finally ended with Nicholas’s abdication and his brother’s refusal to take his place (for his own safety).

The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia is obviously well-researched and is well-written. It’s an subject of interest that I didn’t know as much about as I would have liked and information is presented in a way that’s easy to read. It’s easy to see how one event led to another, how Nicholas and Alexandra’s ignorance and denial was their family’s downfall. The back of the book includes a list of websites with more information on the Romanovs that I will definitely be visiting to learn even more, especially those with more photographs than are included in the book.

4 stars



  1. The Romanovs have become an obsession of mine in the past couple of years. This one is definitely on my To Read list!
    Kim@Time2Read recently posted…Waiting On Wednesday: The Underground Girls of KabulMy Profile

  2. Personally, I find the Romanovs interesting too. I only really know what my mother has told me about them and the internet since I never studied it in school. This is a great review!! Quite informative!
    Angie recently posted…San Diego Comic Con 2014My Profile

    • I remember studying a little about the Russian Revolution, but this book goes into a lot more detail than I remember, plus it gives you the personal stories that I find more interesting. It tells you how things affect real people.
      Jenna recently posted…Picks of the Month: July 2014My Profile