A beautiful depiction of the pre revolution era in Russia, centred around the Imperial Ballet. I was transported there with every page. The love story was sympathetically told, within the confines of a complex social system.
In 1913, Tsar Nicholas II celebrated the tercentenary of Romanov rule in Russia. He ruled over a huge empire which stretched from central Europe to the Pacific Ocean, and from the Arctic to the borders of Afghanistan. But there were many tensions in the empire. In 1914 when the Great War (World War I) broke out, Russia was not well prepared. Against this backdrop, Ms Turner opens her novel in Petrograd in the autumn of 1914, where the Romanov’s Imperial Russian Ballet is located. Valentina Yershova was a talented dancer, determined to make her way through the ranks. But she knew that talent was not enough. Valentina’s latest protector is Maxim Ilyn. He is influential, well-connected and rich and while Valentina knows that he doesn’t intend marriage, she hopes to change his mind.
Luka Zhirkov, the talented son of a factory worker joins the ballet company. He is a skilled dancer, more talented than many others in the company. He is also regarded as a traitor by his father, who thinks he should have gone to war like his brother Pyotr.
War creates shortages and increases the unrest. People are starving. Many see the Romanov’s Imperial Russian Ballet as symbolic of decadence. The dancers are privileged individuals living a lavish lifestyle while people are starving. Luka knows that he can’t be conscripted to fight while his contract with the ballet continues. And yet he feels uneasy. He and Valentina are drawn to each other, an attraction which has its own risks. Maxim Ilyn does not like Luka and would happily bring him down. Valentina is torn between her desire for security and her growing attraction to Luka.
Do Luka and Valentina have a future together?
Ms Turner brings both the dancers and this hectic period of Russian history to life. The contrasts between poverty and wealth, the insecurity of a dancer’s life, the need to have a patron or protector. There are historical figures here as well, including the infamous Grigori Rasputin, and the fascinating ballerina Mathilde Kschessinska. This is Ms Turner’s debut novel, and I enjoyed it immensely.
Note: My thanks to NetGalley and HQ Fiction for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.
Though I am both a ballet lover and a history lover, I have a limited knowledge of Russian history. What an engaging, albeit bittersweet, introduction this book was to the subject! Valentina and Luka may have been fictional characters, but their story was very much rooted in the social and political unrest in the years leading up to the Russian Revolution of 1917, with the Romanovs, Rasputin, and even Mathilde Kschessinska, the prima ballerina assoluta of the Imperial Russian Ballet, all making their presence known throughout its pages.
Valentina and Luka were fascinating characters: both passionate and driven in relation to their careers, and yet expressing those qualities in such different ways. Their personal stories had so many undercurrents of tension, not least of which was the fact that neither Valentina nor Luka ever felt truly secure or happy as they pursued their professional dreams and, eventually, a clandestine relationship with each other. And on that note, I applaud the author for keeping graphic descriptions of said relationship—and others—to a minimum!
The author’s love and knowledge of ballet shines through in a way that will be accessible even to those who know nothing about the subject, but it was the way the historical setting was brought to life, and Valentina’s and Luka’s stories within that setting, that captured me most and held me fast to the end.
It’s definitely a “Brava” from me for this fellow-Australian’s debut novel.
I received a copy of this novel from the publisher. This has not influenced the content of my review, which is my honest and unbiased opinion.
This is the type of book I wish I could read all the time. Set against the backdrop of pre-revolution Russia, we get a look into the privileged lives of the dancers of the Tsars Imperial Ballet. Concentrating on famed soloist Valentina and up and coming corps dancer Luka, and their illicit love affair, we move from rehearsals, to performances and then to the dancers private downtime. Yet their affair seems to be doomed, as Valentina has a protector, Maxim, a man who has paid for her lifestyle, and his job is to move her forward in the company, in exchange for sole use of her body. As Luka urges Valentina to leave Maxim, the revolution hits, and suddenly not only the exclusive existence of the dancers is in danger, but their lives as well. This book had everything. Star-crossed lovers, a well researched history, and a realistic look into the lives of the rich and famous in war torn Russia. Kerri Turner's novel is extraordinary, her love of dance shining through. I can't give this book enough accolades, it is one I'll return to again and again. Now, I'm off to buy tickets to the ballet... My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
The Last Of the Romanov Dancers is story set in the back ground of pre-revolution Russia.
Kerri Turner's debut sets real life figures amongst fictional characters in the Imperial Ballet, where ambition walks and money talks.
It did take me a little while to get into this book, and I did consider DNFing at one stage, however I think that had more to do with me and end of year burn out rather than the book. Once I got past that stage I couldn't wait to turn each page.
Luka and Valentina's story is not always an easy one to read, which is to be expected with the time it is set. Despite all the differences, you can't help but want them to be together.
I got swept away with this story, and even though I knew where the story would eventually take us, I enjoyed the journey.
I am looking forward to what Ms Turner brings us in the future.
The Last Days of the Romanov Dancers, by Kerri Turner, is a wonderful and thoroughly enjoyable story to read.
I’m a sucker for anything set in Russia. I devoured Paullina Simons’ The Bronze Horseman series, with Tatiana and Alexander and have read my way through plenty of Russian literature, including Anna Karenina and Crime and Punishment.
I’m also drawn to any story related to ballet – partly a hangover from my childhood obsession with the book, Veronica at the Wells, and partly because I’m endlessly fascinated by dancing. It all seems like so much magic to me, being entirely physically uncoordinated myself!
Turner’s debut novel is an excellent story to add to your reading list if you’re a fellow Russia / ballet tragic.
The Last Days of the Romanov Dancers is a well written and researched story of forbidden love in a time of war. It successfully transported me to St Petersburg (as Petrograd is now called) and then back in time one hundred years.
It was easy to feel Valentina’s and Luka’s fears of being plunged back into grinding poverty at any moment, so precarious were their situations. The building fury of the working poor towards the ‘let them eat cake’ attitudes of the rich and powerful was very well handled. If you’ve read your history, it’ll be no spoiler to remind you that this is the same period as the Russian revolution which saw the assassination of Rasputin, the ‘mad monk’ in 1916, followed by the Tsar’s abdication a few weeks later and the execution of the entire Romanov family in 1918.
This book is a real page turner, but don’t expect to be greeted with puppy dogs and roses. Kerri Turner has faithfully followed the dark traditions of Russian literature when it comes to story lines.
oh wow was my first thought upon finishing this book. The last days of the Romanov dancers was a big hit for me, Kerri Turner did a masterful job of bringing a bygone era to life and making me feel like I was really there it was just a truly beautiful story and one I will re-read and cherish for years to come.
“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 is!
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.)
I really enjoyed this novel. I loved the detail about the ballet. It's clear the author has intimate knowledge of the industry but this only makes the book more wonderful. The world of Russia at war is also vivid. It's always a pleasure to read about a period of history you know little about. The love affair of the two main characters is a slow burn but worth waiting for. A beautiful story that will stay with me.