The Last Days of the Romanov Dancers is set in Russia between 1914 and 1920, which means that it documents not just the end of the Imperial Russian Ballet, but also the end of the Romanovs themselves. It was a period of great upheaval for Russia, and for all those affected by the Great War, but Kerri Turner manages to create a narrow focus for a reader’s attention so that the weight of historical detail doesn’t become too overwhelming.
Her two main characters are Luka—a newcomer to the Imperial
Russian Ballet—and Valentina, who has been in the company longer, but shares
Luka’s modest upbringing. While both interact with actual historical people,
such as Rasputin and the Romanovs, the peripheral nature of their involvement means
that the reader can sympathise with them more readily, even faced with displays
of wealth and indulgence while the working classes starve. Here, Luka’s guilt about
his position of privilege works to reassure a modern audience where perhaps Valentina’s
enjoyment of wealth does not. I think I would have enjoyed a little more of an
evolution in Valentina’s nature, but her character is likely more realistic as
I am not a great reader of modern (that is, in terms of publication,
not setting) adult romance, so I was a little worried from the blurb that this
novel would be heavy on the romance and light on the history. On the whole, I
need not have worried. There was a section in the middle of the book where the
romance took centre stage for a while, but most of the time I was happily
immersed in history and ballet.
The descriptions of dance and the world of the performing
arts are where Turner’s writing is at its most exciting and emotive. Her own
experiences as a dancer and dance teacher inform the novel wonderfully and,
while the passion of the romantic relationship may have failed to thrill me,
the passion for dance seemed almost tangible. I’m not a dancer, but I
understand the love of one’s artform, and I thought this was conveyed
wonderfully throughout the book.
Overall, The Last Days of the Romanov Dancers is an excellent debut from Kerri Turner and I look forward to her future publications.
(Thank you to Harlequin Books for providing a copy in exchange for an honest review.)