By Sarah Wright
"There was a time, not very long ago, when we lived in an enchanted world of elegant palaces and grand parties. The year was 1916 and my son Nicholas, was the Czar of Imperial Russia." *Que the waltz and CLAP-CLAP!**
Cut the waltz! Cut the waltz! This isn't the animated "Anastasia" film. But "The Last Tiara" by M. J. Rose does capture the glittery grandeur of Imperial Russia and its stunning collapse. It, too, centers around a plot MacGuffin, only this one was previously owned by another grand duchess, Olga Nikolaevna Romanova -- the eldest sister.
The connection to the Olga is actually how I landed on "The Last Tiara." I completed a random search on Hoopla hoping to find Olga's diary; instead, I found a novel. I harbor a fondness for OTMA (Olga, Tatiana, Maria, and Anastasia) as the collective Romanov daughter were referred to, so I decided to give the audiobook a try, particularly since Olga is not the sister to get a lot of attention in fictional retellings.
While the Romanov daughters make appearances, they never take center stage. Instead, readers follow dual timelines, split between a mother and her daughter. In the story's present of 1949 New York City, a daughter seeks to uncover her mother's past in Russia after uncovering a stripped tiara during her apartment renovations. The reader then gets to follow her mother as she navigates newly renamed Petrograd, Russia, in 1915.
"The Last Tiara" offers fascinating historical details combined with romance and mystery. In particular, I enjoyed the jaunt into the House of Faberge and the jewelry market that sprouted as wealthy Russian emigres fled abroad -- often only with the gems they could conceal.
M.J. Rose definitely did her research into both time periods. In some cases, she was all too eager to share her efforts by providing a few information dumps. These didn't upset my reading experience, but I'm also interest in this type of historic detail ... so your mileage may vary!
"The Last Tiara" gets four out of five stars from me. I enjoyed the audiobook version of the novel. The narrator, Tavia Gilbert, hit it out of the park, particularly with all her Russian pronunciations and accents. This novel should be an enjoyable read for fans of historical fiction, particularly those who enjoy a dash of romance and a sprinkling of mystery.
The Libby App has a digital copy of the audiobook and e-book available, while Hoopla has the digital audiobook.
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