This novel is a major triumph. There is no suspense, as we all know how the Romanov saga turns out. We know the horrors that await our eyes, and they are depicted, graphically, grippingly in the final pages. As in historical novels about other tragic figures, like Abraham Lincoln and Jesus of Nazareth, the reader (at least this reader) hopes against hope that it will end differently, but it cannot.
The triumph is in how author Laura Rose depicts how the Romanovs lived their lives in captivity following the October 1917 revolution. Marie Romanov, a mid-teenaged Grand Duchess, chafes in her diary at their deflated way of life but powers on, making the best of things. Russian fatalism haunts the novel. Marie and her sisters frequently reminisce about the way things had been, to the point of remembering favorite menus and meals. The disconnect between the imperial lifestyle and the real world of Russia in turmoil after World War I is palpable. Sometimes Marie shows that she understands the irreality, but at heart she longs to return to it. This tension is beautifully developed.
While Marie is the focus of the novel, how each member of the household, royals and servants alike, and their various Bolshevik captors react is carefully developed. Every character is complex and richly depicted. Ex-Tsar Nicholas is totally dysfunctional and fatalistic but intrinsically likeable; pulling off this characterization is quite a feat. The dynamics of the relationships of parents and children before and after the fall are depicted in smooth, often lyrical passages. Few emotions are left unexamined. The book brims with facts but they are always woven into the narrative. One can learn things from <i>The Passion of Marie Romanov,</i> but one never feels taught.
I majored in Russian literature half a century ago and lived among Russian Orthodox for decades, so my perspective might not be typical of other readers, but I was fully satisfied by the novel and believe that readers with no particular background in this area will thoroughly enjoy it and benefit from the reading.