The Last Tiara
Publisher: 2nd February 2021 by Blue Box Press
Pages: 437 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: Historical Fiction | Mystery & Thrillers
My Rating: 4.5 cups
From New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller M.J. Rose comes a provocative and moving story of a young female architect in post-World War II Manhattan, who stumbles upon a hidden treasure and begins a journey to discovering her mother’s life during the fall of the Romanovs.
Sophia Moon had always been reticent about her life in Russia and when she dies, suspiciously, on a wintry New York evening, Isobelle despairs that her mother’s secrets have died with her. But while renovating the apartment they shared, Isobelle discovers something among her mother’s effects—a stunning silver tiara, stripped of its jewels.
Isobelle’s research into the tiara’s provenance draws her closer to her mother’s past—including the story of what became of her father back in Russia, a man she has never known. The facts elude her until she meets a young jeweler, who wants to help her but is conflicted by his loyalty to the Midas Society, a covert international organization whose mission is to return lost and stolen antiques, jewels, and artwork to their original owners.
Told in alternating points of view, the stories of the two young women unfurl as each struggles to find their way during two separate wars. In 1915, young Sofiya Petrovitch, favorite of the royal household and best friend of Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaevna, tends to wounded soldiers in a makeshift hospital within the grounds of the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg and finds the love of her life. In 1948 New York, Isobelle Moon works to break through the rampant sexism of the age as one of very few women working in a male-dominated profession and discovers far more about love and family than she ever hoped for.
In M.J. Rose’s deftly constructed narrative, the secrets of Sofiya’s early life are revealed incrementally, even as Isobelle herself works to solve the mystery of the historic Romanov tiara (which is based on an actual Romanov artifact that is, to this day, still missing)—and how it is that her mother came to possess it. The two strands play off each other in finely-tuned counterpoint, building to a series of surprising and deeply satisfying revelations.
M.J Rose delves into historical fiction once more in her latest, The Last Tiara. I am never sure what I will find in opening one of Rose’s books - some hit the mark and some miss. I am happy to say that on this occasion, it was a definite ‘hit’ for me. She has undertaken and written a fabulous historical tale which invokes a real sense of place combined with romance and intrigue.
‘She was fascinated with how lives can change after one tiny moment that didn’t even seem consequential at the time, but in retrospect altered the trajectory of life.’
Always a sucker for anything concerning Russia and the loss of its monarchy, this is a story told in alternating chapters between Sofiya's life in Russia from 1915 through 1922, and her daughter, Isobelle in 1948. When Isobelle discovers a hidden tiara after her mother’s death, she embarks on a journey of discovery as her mother failed to disclose so much of her Russian youth to her. So much credible detail is provided on a range of themes from Russia and the time of revolution to Isobelle trying to cement her female self into the working life of New York just after the Second World War.
‘My mother’s life before she came to America - well, she kept that from me. She was secretive about almost every part of it. When I found the tiara, I suppose I thought it would lead me to … answers about her past. And about mine.’
There is some romance for Isobelle as she takes steps to uncover the secrets her mother seemingly hid so well. Yet it is the story of the tiara that captivated me; I love a good historical mystery and believe Rose has done a fabulous job on this occasion as I was so easily transported to the various locations and time periods. The ending is intense and that just topped off a winning read.
M.J. Rose has done her research and brought to life a possible scenario surrounding the last tiara from the House of Fabergé made for the Russian Imperial family. Anyone who is a fan of historical fiction and intrigue, especially surrounding fine art and jewellery you won’t be disappointed.
‘I move my head, and the tiara seems to wink at me. I don’t like the sight. It’s not a beautiful object, not anymore. Now, it’s just a remnant of another era, another life.’
This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.