I have been reading books about the Romanovs and The Russian Revolution for a good while. When Amazon suggested I might like The Last of the Romanov Dancers by Kerri Turner. I saw it was set in Petrograd, starting in 1914, focusing on The Romanov Imperial
Ballet. I was quickly persuaded to hit "purchase now".
Founded by Peter the Great in 1789 and made the imperial capital because of the proximity of western Europe and access to the sea, when war with Germany broke out in 1914 the city's name was changed from Saint Petersburg to Petrograd. This was done to avoid any association with Germany. Turner does a wonderful job showing us the political mood of the city. The Tsar's wife was from German descent and was under the sway of Rasputin. Tsar Nicholas, still worshipped by many, even though he was totally unfit to rule, is involved in running the war. People barely have food and young men are being drafted. Turner masterfully displays a city about to explode.
Luka is a young man from a poor Petrograd family. His dream has long been to be accepted in The Romanov Ballet. Most allowed to be come neophyte members are from affluent families with connections. Luka achieved admission based on his talent. There is a special bonus behind this, men in the Ballet Company are exempt from service in the military. Luka's brother is drafted and his father harshly castigated Luka for using the Ballet to shirk his patriotic duty.
The training is hard, the company is rife with gossip and intrigue. Few first year dancers will ever advance. Many will not have their contracts renewed for a second year. Richer young men can still find a way out of being drafted but for others the military is a harsh alternative. Turner shows us that for a woman to advance or even survive in the Ballet, she needs a "protector", a wealthly eell placed man who can use his imperial connections and who will support her. It was understood that this gives the man sexual access and a claim to exclusivity. For a man, the higher their protege was in the company, the more she would cost him.
Valentina has been in the company a few years. In one very telling scene, her protector transfers her to another man. Slowly she and Luka form a relationship. Turner lets us see the growing tensions in Petrograd, we encounter the daughters of the Tsar and even Rasputin. I loved how Turner subtly showed us the power of Rasputin.
The historically real Mathilde Kschessinska plays an important part in The Last Romanov Dancers (she is depicted in the collage above as are three Grand Dukes who were among her protectors.).
As conditions get worse in Petrograd, for many the Romanov Ballet becomes a symbol for decadence.
Turner makes the story entralling, with numerous unexpected turns of events. I don't want to spoil the action for anyone. I did really appreciate the post revolutionary epilogue set in Paris in 1920.
The Last of the Romanov Dancers is a first rate historical novel, very well researched.
You will enjoy this wonderful debut work more with a bit of background knowledge
I would suggest this short video from the Smithsonian Channel on the first stirrings of revolution in Petrograd
Sergei Eisenstein film, October Ten Days that Shook the World, must viewing for anyone into movie history, depicts events in
Petrograd. (It is considered one of best movies ever made). You will feel the terror and the violence.
Over the years I have posted on two very good books related to Russian Ballet
Bolshoi Confidential Secrets of The Russian Ballet From the Rule of the Czars to Today by Simon Morrison (2016) is a marvelous background work.
Dancer by Colum McCabe is based on the life of Rudolph Nureyev
From the website of Kerri Turner (kerriturner.com)
"The Last Days of the Romanov Dancers, my debut novel, was released with HQ, an imprint of HarperCollins Australia, in January 2019. A second historical fiction novel, The Daughter of Victory Lights, is scheduled for release 20 January 2020.
In 2017 I signed with literary agent Haylee Nash of The Nash Agency. In prior years, my short stories have been published by Reflex Fiction, Boolarong Press, Catchfire Press, Stringybark, Underground Writers, and as part of the Dangerous Women Project.
My author influences include (but are not limited to) Kate Forsyth, Sara Gruen, Belinda Alexandra, Hazel Gaynor, Ken Follett, Eli Brown, and Kate Morton. I also have a special fondness for Lorna Hill, particularly her 'Sadler's Wells' series, which I have collected since childhood.
When not writing or reading, I can usually be found teaching ballet and tap dancing, baking sweet treats, or spending time with my husband and my miniature schnauzer Nelson. "
The Last of the Romanov Dancer is a wonderful debut, a delightful read.
I look forward to reading the author's second book next year.