The Grand Duchess of Nowhere
This is the fictional memoir of the real-life Princess Victoria Melita (better known as Ducky), granddaughter of both Queen Victoria and Tsar Alexander III of Russia. Her story spans the last years of the 19th century and the tumultuous opening decades of the 20th and gives a vivid insight into the doomed royal houses of Europe, blissfully unaware of the world changing around them. Dynastic matchmaking leaves Ducky unhappily married to a man who cannot truly love her. Scandal, tragedy and divorce follow before she is reunited with the love of her life, her cousin, Cyril Romanov.
Although evocative of time and place, the story can feel episodic, and the pace flags midway. The family tree was essential to keep track of who was related to who, and a map or two might have been helpful. However, Ducky’s return to Russia heightens the tension and puts her at the heart of political intrigue, personal tragedy, war and revolution. The familiar figures of Nicolas and Alexandra, their children, and the shadowy “holy man”, Rasputin, come to the fore. Our own hindsight lends poignancy to Ducky’s partial account to events.
Ducky’s particular voice is the star quality in this novel. She has a wry observance, a keen eye and some less likeable traits. In her gilded world, she cannot understand why protestors should take to the streets or soldiers mutiny. The war is almost a game, revolution an inconvenience, and we know, and as she comes to realise, that there can be no happy endings.
This is ultimately a very moving book, and I would recommend it.