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This reading group guide forThe Romanov Conspiracyincludes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Glenn Meade. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
While on an archeological dig in the outskirts of the present-day Russian city of Ekaterinburg, Dr. Laura Pavlov discovers two perfectly preserved bodies in a mineshaft near where the Tsar Nicholas and his family were brutally murdered in 1918. Dr. Pavlov’s discovery leads her on a journey across Europe to a small Irish town where she is told a story about a plan to rescue the Romanov family from execution—a story that crosses borders, languages, and centuries, and one that threatens to forever change the course of history. Alternating between a present-day Russia and the Bolshevik Revolution, The Romanov Conspiracy chronicles the mysterious circumstances surrounding the fate of the Romanov family—especially the spirited daughter Princess Anastasia.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. “I believe that the greatest secrets lie buried and only the dead speak the truth.” (MS-pg. 8) In what ways does this quote set the tone for the novel? What does this tell you about Pavlov’s character?
2. Revisit the scene on MS-pages 34-35 when Yakov tells Pavlov that his father was responsible for the Romanov execution. What are Yakov’s motivations for revealing his family’s secrets to Palvov? Why does he trust her?
3. Consider the relationship of brothers Uri, Leonid, and Stanislas. In what ways are they a typical family? In what ways are they different?
4. On MS-page 84, Yakov tells Andrev: “Sometimes unpleasant things are necessary for the common good.” How does this statement become a maxim for Yakov’s character? What are some examples of Yakov’s sacrifices for the common good? Do you think he is misguided in his belief, or do you agree that sacrifice is always necessary for a larger freedom? Discuss your answer.
5. Discuss Andrev’s character. What kind of role does he play in the narrative of The Romanov Conspiracy? What does his character symbolize to the other characters? Do you think his goodness is a standard by which his sons measure themselves?
6. Consider the structure of The Romanov Conspiracy and how the narrative shifts betweens both the present and the past. What effect does this have on the story?
7. Do you think that Andrev made the right decision by abandoning Stanislas’s corpse in order to escape execution? What were his regrets? What would you have done if you were in his place?
8. Answer the question the hospital nun poses to Joe Boyle on MS-page 161: “Who are you, sir?” Who is Joe Boyle? Why is he so powerful? What are his motivations for supporting the Russian Civil War? Did you have any remaining questions about him as a character?
9. What kind of role does privilege play in The Romanov Conspiracy? Consider Yakov, the Romanovs, Sorg, Uri, and Lydia in your response. In what ways does the pursuit of privilege influence these character’s decisions?
10. The Romanov Conspiracy has many characters. Ultimately, whose story is this? Is there one character you could name as the hero or heroine?
11. Why does Yakov have a change of heart in the end? Do you think it was because of Uri or in spite of him?
12. On page 483, Lydia says to Ryan: “You want to shut out the world and wait for the darkness to pass. But then when you open your eyes again you find nothing’s changed. It never does.” What kind of “darkness” haunts each of the characters?
13. Discuss Lydia and Andrev’s relationship. Is their connection based in loneliness or do you think the two truly loved one another?
14. Did you like the ending of the story? Did it surprise you? Overall, did you find the novel “just like a Russian doll—you open up one part, thinking you’ve got to the end…only to find another part inside”? (MS-pg. 615)
Enhance Your Book Club
1. The Romanov Conspiracy explores a pivotal, tragic moment in history—the brutal execution of Tsar Nicholas and family. But the novel also explores the impact of personal tragedies or life-changing events: “Some events in our lives are so huge in their impact upon us that they are almost impossible to take in.” (MS-pg. 20) Share a decisive moment from your own life with your book club members. How did you react? How do you think this experience impacted or shaped you as a person?
2. After an argument with Andrev, Lydia attempts to make peace by sharing with him one of her favorite poems called “When You Are Old” by the Irish poet William Butler Yeats. Find the complete poem online and read it aloud to your book group. Why was this poem Lydia’s form of apology? What is the significance of this poem?
3. Speculation about what really happened to Grand Duchess Anastasia, the youngest Romanov daughter, has long fascinated historians and the public alike. Turn your next book club meeting into a movie night and watch the 1956 film, “Anastasia,” starring Ingrid Bergman.
A Conversation with Glenn Meade
1. You have gained a reputation for being an author who does extensive research for your novels. Can you describe the research that went into writing The Romanov Conspiracy?
I spent about a year researching the novel. It’s sponge time—when you’re trying to absorb everything you can lay your hands on that’s relevant to the story. I read a lot during this period, including biographies of people who lived in Russia during the era to get a feel for the times. I spoke to local historians in the Irish village of Collon—where the grave of one of the main characters in the book is situated and which forms part of the opening of the story—and who met and remembered him. I also spoke to as many experts on the subject as I could get access to, from as far afield as Canada and the U.S., Europe and Russia. Sometimes it isn’t easy to get access to the experts—it can take a little persuading. In the best journalistic tradition, on occasion I had to kick in a few doors to get the information I needed. I always try to travel to the main locations in my books. For The Romanov Conspiracy I spent a month in various locations in Russia. I rarely stay in hotels while researching, but prefer to stay in the homes of locals, which can usually be arranged through a bespoke travel agent. You’ll learn nothing much about the city you’re staying in while living in a hotel—but locals have the inside track and you can glean a heck of a lot of realistic detail about a city by spending time in the company of its inhabitants. Once the research is done, then comes the hard part—you roll up your sleeves and get ready to put your head through the wringer as you tackle the actual writing.
2. You write in a blog post titled “Anatomy of a Story: The Romanov Conspiracy” on www.glennmeadeauthor.com the following note to readers: “So, dear reader, much of what you will read in the story is true. The rest, but a small part, is fiction. As to which part is truth, and which small part is fiction, I will leave that for you to decide…” Why do you think are drawn to walk this line between fact and fiction in your writing?
Creating believability in a story is important—it’s probably one of the most important techniques of fiction writing. I think it makes a story far more engaging and credible when a large part of it borders on the truth, don’t you think?
Also, for me, using my imagination to either muddy or clarify real events in order to give my particular take on those events, I think that’s where the fun and pleasure lies in writing.
3. Do you have a favorite character in The Romanov Conspiracy? Was there any character that you particularly enjoyed writing?
Many of the characters in The Romanov Conspiracy are based on real people. Each is intriguing in his/her own way, so I guess this time it was a little more interesting than usual in terms of the writing. I particularly enjoyed exploring the characters of Andrev, Yakov, Lydia, and Sorg. Also Joe Boyle is another real character I found pretty engaging. He was a truly larger-than-life figure, though so few people know about Boyle’s incredible, real-life exploits during the Romanov era.
4. Who would you consider to be your literary influences?
I’ve always loved Scott Fitzgerald and Hemingway, each for different reasons. More contemporary writers include Ted Allbeury, Elmore Leonard, and Harlan Coben. All are very different as writers, but I don’t think that they necessarily influence my style in any major way—I write very differently compared to any of them. A writer usually writes the way he wants to be read—if that makes sense? Also, the writer’s own character, for better or worse, shines through on the page, as does his tone of voice—you can’t hide either in your writing, no matter how hard you try. As for influences, I think they’re often a complex amalgam—they can go back as far as the kinds of books you read as a child.
5. The Midwest Book Review called you “a cross between Indiana Jones and Dan Brown” in review of your previous novel, The Second Messiah. Do you agree? If you could write a blurb for yourself, what would it be? Do you characterize your writing as part of the thriller genre?
Gosh, that’s a difficult one. Do I agree? I’m sure grateful for the compliment. Do I characterize my writing as part of the thriller genre? I certainly use thriller techniques. Usually though, straightforward thrillers are pure entertainment—nothing wrong with that. But I like to think my books offer a little more substance—the reader can expect to be enlightened as well as entertained. A blurb for myself? I’ll take the Midwest Book Review blurb, thanks.
6. You’ve written several international bestsellers, all set in different time periods and locations. What inspired you to write about the Bolshevik Revolution and about the Romanov family?
I write about this in a blog on my website, www.glennmeadeauthor.com—a piece titled “Anatomy of a Story: The Romanov Conspiracy.” I explain how I got the original idea for the book quite by chance. Also, Russia fascinates me—its people, its vastness, its history. I was acutely aware, too, of the enormous public interest in the Romanovs—so when I discovered early on in my research about a factual rescue attempt to save the royal family from execution I felt certain it would make a powerful and interesting tale.
7. The Romanov Conspiracy is your eighth novel. How have you grown as a writer from your first novel, Snow Wolf?
Actually, Snow Wolf was my second novel. Brandenburg my first, but they were published in reverse order in the U.S. Grown? I hope so. And I’d like to think I’m a little wiser but in truth my sensibilities probably haven’t changed all that much. I share the major character trait of most fiction writers, who are essentially one half innocent and one half cynic; this Jekyll and Hyde flaw in their character is totally necessary in order for them to function—the innocent in them writes the first draft; the hard-headed cynic does the re-writes.
8. What do you hope readers will remember or take-away after reading The Romanov Conspiracy?
The poignant tragedy of the story and the dynamism of the characters. The feeling that my interpretation of the Romanov mystery may offer a fresh take on the enigma surrounding the family’s final hours, and on the role played by Anna Anderson. Above all, I hope that they both enjoyed and were moved by the story.
9. If you could go back in time and speak with one of the Romanovs, who would it be? What would you ask?
I think I’d be more interested in speaking with their executioners—I’d like to know what exactly happened on the night the Romanovs disappeared, and why different versions of the events were offered over the years?
10. What are you working on now? Can you share some details about your next project?
This is the part where the author runs like a scalded cat, trying desperately to avoid giving too much away. It’s almost bad luck to discuss a story in the making, so let me keep it deliberately vague and just say that it’s a powerful story of dark secrets, revenge, and redemption, which is set in the present, but with detours into the past. And yes, it does have a forensic archeological excavation as part of its plot…
Glenn Meade was born in 1957 in Finglas, Dublin. Several of his novels have been international bestsellers, translated into more than twenty languages, and have enjoyed both critical and commercial success.