A Conversation with Steve Berry
Question: Why write about the Romanovs?
Steve Berry: The idea for the novel came during a tour of the Kremlin. The guide kept mentioning the phrase “the fourth Rome.” Being unfamiliar with that term I inquired and she told me that Ivan the Great, who was the first man to be called Tsar and ruled Russia in the fifteenth century, made a comment one day. He said, ‘two Romes have fallen (he meant Rome and Constantinople), a third now stands (he meant Moscow), and fourth there will never be.’ That was an intriguing thought and, over the next few days, the novel was born. The whole scenario dealing with Nicholas II and his family, their arrest, imprisonment, murder, burial, and exhumation is fascinating. As is Russia itself.
Q: Is there really a Tsarist restoration movement in Russia?
SB: The All-Russian Monarchist Assembly referred to in the book is an actual Russian organization dedicated to not only Tsarist remembrance, but a Romanov restoration to the throne.
Q: Why include Felix Yussoupov?
SB: What a fascinating character. His family was the richest in Russia, he was married to the Nicholas II’s favorite niece, yet he murdered Rasputin thinking he was saving the country from ruin. Unfortunately, that act saved nothing and only hastened the Tsar's downfall. He’s described in the book as a man of sudden ideas, which is apt. He was never meant to be head of the Yussoupov family, and only inherited the reins when his older brother was killed in a duel. He was a disappointment from birth. His mother wanted a girl, so to console herself she kept him in long hair and dresses, a habit Felix maintained into adulthood. He was a man of glaring contradictions and extreme beliefs, one I thought readers would enjoy meeting.
Q: Is that why Fabergé is part of the story, too?
SB: No question. Interestingly, as is noted in the book, Fabergé himself actually designed and made nothing. He was simply the presiding genius of a conglomerate that, at its height, produced some of the finest jewelry ever crafted. His workmasters actually conceived and assembled everything and the two men mentioned in the story are real. The Lilies of the Valley Egg is, without question, a spectacular object. Once I saw a photo of the egg, with its tri-fold photos of the Tsar and two of his children, I knew it had to be part of the story.
Q: Was Rasputin always a part of the plot?
SB: His prophecies are what spur the plot forward. It’s not really known whether he uttered those predictions during his life, or whether they were added after his death by his daughter who became his biographer, but there is no denying this Siberian peasant was a skillful manipulator. I fictionalized some to give his words even more credence, but they still remain mysterious and intriguing. There’s a whole other novel there to do on his life.
Q: Was the research difficult?
SB: Finding primary and secondary sources that deal with the Romanovs and Nicholas II is easy. There are hundreds of books available. The trouble comes with the lack of consistency between the various primary accounts. I read many so-called eyewitness reports from a variety of participants in the imperial murders. There is a Russian saying quoted in the book, he lies like an eyewitness, which is right on target. The accounts conflict far more than they agree – to the point that you have to wonder if the various witnesses were all present at the same event. It took time to cull the consistent information, then I filled in the blanks. The Writer’s Note at the end of the novel makes clear what’s fact and what’s fiction.
Q: When was the book written?
SB: I first wrote the novel in 1996. It was submitted for publication in 1998 and rejected by seventeen major publishers. It then sat in a drawer until 2002, when The Amber Room was bought by Ballantine Books. I then submitted the manuscript as the second of the two books Ballantine wanted and it was accepted. Just goes to show, don’t toss out those old manuscripts.
Q: Will we ever see Miles Lord again?
SB: It's entirely possible. I'd love to re-visit the new Russia created in The Romanov Prophecy and take Miles, and the surviving cast of charcters, on a new adventure. In fact, I have several in mind.