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The Last Grand Duchess

A Novel of Olga Romanov, Imperial Russia, and Revolution

by Bryn Turnbull

The Last Grand Duchess by Bryn Turnbull X
The Last Grand Duchess by Bryn Turnbull
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    Feb 2022, 384 pages

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Catherine V. (Lower Burrell, PA)

Alluring
The Last Grand Duchess held my attention throughout the book. Alternating chapters of previous and more recent times provided understanding and context for this well written story. I could envision the events as told by Bryn Turnbull who describes a different perspective on this time in Russian history. Though part of this story was tumultuous, I enjoyed the author's rendition. She made complicated Russian names and events easy to follow. I was eager to see how the plot unfolded. I will certainly read other works by Bryn Turnbull.
Diana C. (Boca Raton, FL)

The end of Imperial Russia
Books on the Romanovs, much like World War II, are everywhere. And while we all know the last chapter of this well chronicled story, this particular book focuses specifically on the eldest Romanov daughter, Olga, and her coming of age. Clearly well researched, this book is what all historical fiction strives to be: detailed, informative, entertaining and compelling. One hundred years after the fact, this story still has a haunting impact.
Emily C. (Naples, FL)

PRINCESS OLGA UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL
As a retired history teacher and lover of historical novels, I couldn't wait to dig into Bryn Turnbull's novel about Olga Romanov and her family during the days of the Russian revolution and beyond. I wasn't disappointed. It is a spellbinding tale of Olga and the Romanov family and their devotion to both Russia and to their immediate family.

Turnbull weaves rich historical detail throughout the telling of Olga's story and clearly reveals the impact of the historical events on the characters. She includes a Select Biography of sources used in her research for the novel.
I couldn't help but ask myself: Do the historical times make the characters who they are or do the natures and beliefs of the characters create the tide of historical events?

For 300 years the Romanov family held the reins of Russian power. Nicolas II and his immediate family firmly believed that their positions were destined by God. As Alexandra told Olga: "The tsar is Christ's emissary on Earth; it stands to reason that he would send a man of God (Rasputin) to provide His guidance in times of strife". This belief, together with the devotion of the family to one another, is what drove the behavior of each of its members. In Olga's case, she had lived her entire life "living on the margins of her parents' expectations: on the margins of her brother's Illness (hemophilia); and on the margins of her own comfort...her life was destined for Russia, for love and for duty".

Since I have read a number of the books listed in the bibliography, few of the facts of the Romanov story were new to me. However, learning about Jim Hercules and the small contingent of Black men who held court positions from before the time of Catherine the Great, was new and fascinating information to me. As Turnbull points out, Jim was a sign of change. "The men who had held such positions in the past had come from Ethiopia-many of them not by their own choice...Jim, however, had applied for the post after leaving his home in Tennessee, preferring the sophistication of the Russian court-and the position's generous salary-to America's Jim Crow South".

Even though I knew the end of the story of the Romanov family, the excellent writing kept me reading for hours at a time, just to find out what would happen next. Turnbull weaves a good story, while, on the whole, remaining true to the historical record.
Christine B. (Lilydale, MN)

The Fierce Defender
I thought this was a mesmerizing betrayal of the Grand Duchess Olga. More it seems has been written about her sister Anastasia- most likely because of the rumors that she survived. I loved the way the author intertwined the evolution of the Russian revolution with the ordinary day to day lives of Olga and her family. Olga was a fierce defender of her Russian heritage and her feeling of great duty to the Russian people. This was sorely tested when Rasputin's involvement with the tsar and tsarina threatened everything she had believed in. Her young life was full with the introduction of new love, nursing the injured Russian soldiers, caring for her ailing mother, and protector of her sisters. One can only wonder what life would have offered her and the world if she had lived.
Janet H. (Long Beach, CA)

Russian History, well written
This was an excellent story of Olga Nikolaevna, daughter of Tsar Nicholas ll and his wife Tsarina Alexandra Federovna. The author did a good job bringing these historical figures to life, moving slowly towards their inevitable deaths; explaining how and why those assassinations occurred. What a mess their ruling was! I particularly appreciated the author's note at the end, providing further explanation. The last few chapters, with dates going back and forth between 1918 and 1916 were confusing. I think it was done to further the suspense, but I would have preferred that the book follow chronological order, as already established.
Sooz

Olga Romanov-The Last Grand Duchess
Despite having to frequently check back to a 4-1/2 page listing of characters, this fascinating saga of Olga Romanov and her extended family held my interest throughout.
As the eldest of four daughters and one son, Olga (the last Grand Duchess), felt responsible for the various needs of the family, a job she did admirably. I feel that readers will empathize with Olga twice falling in love with men below her royal station thus negating her chance of marriage.
Readers should be prepared to accept the reality of the many hardships faced by Olga and the rest of the Tsar's family once the Revolution escalated and their lifestyle underwent a radical change.
Even if readers already know the tragic ending of the entire Romanov family, many of the events that take place beforehand abound in the chapters of this book.
I recommend this book to Russian history buffs plus anyone interested in learning more details about the Romanov family.
Power Reviewer
Beverly

A New Perspective
Finally an historical fiction that doesn't focus on Anastasia. Olga, the oldest daughter of the last Tsar of Russia is presented as more than just another "royal"; instead she is a thinking, wondering young woman whose expectations of a normal life will never happen. Based on multiple non-fiction sources, including the diaries of Olga, we are better able to examine and maybe understand how and why the Russian Revolution came about from a purely personal perspective. Easily read, highly recommended for any fan of historical fiction.
Katheryn G. (West Covina, CA)

Good, but could have been great
The last grand duchess of the novel's title is Olga Nikolaevna, eldest daughter of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia and his wife, Empress Alexandra. I find this book hard to review: I wanted to like this book more than I did. The book is written well and it held my attention, but the use of dual timelines (1917-1918 and 1913-1916, with a prologue in 1907 and an epilogue in 1952) distracted me a lot. I wonder how the novel would have worked if it had used just one timeline and not shifted from one to the other.

I enjoyed reading about Olga's innocent romance with Dmitri Shakh-Bagov, a Georgian officer in the Russian Army whom Olga meets when an injured Dmitri is sent to the hospital Olga works at as a nurse during World War I. Although I have read other fictional and nonfictional works about the fall of the Romanovs, I had not previously known about the Olga/Dmitri romance. I also liked reading about Olga's growing awareness of how the flaws of her parents helped bring on the Russian Revolution, even though she continues to love and care for them.

Bryn Turnbull's inclusion of a list of characters, author's note, glossary, and bibliography is a plus. The book cover is lovely.
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Beyond the Book:
  Olga Romanov

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