Candace Fleming’s latest book has the elements of an overheated dystopian thriller — political repression, malevolent figures, a protracted war, endangered children — but no prospect of a triumphal ending. Focusing on the last czar and his family, Fleming, who has also written books about Amelia Earhart and the Lincolns, delivers another engaging and insightful work of history, giving young readers a clear sense of the complicated world in which the Romanov family lived and died. She presents imperial Russia as full of problematic extremes, and Nicholas II as a leader incapable of handling them. The book provides a strong introduction to the grim course of World War I and to the many phases of the Russian Revolution, but the narrative is driven by the story of Nicholas, his wife, Alexandra, their four daughters, and their son, Alexei. Fleming doesn’t idealize the royal parents, who overindulged their children, allowed themselves to fall under the hypnotic spell of Rasputin, and didn’t even try to understand Russia’s worsening conditions. The book’s final chapters, detailing how the family adapted to reduced circumstances, are painful, especially as it becomes plain that all of them cared much more about being together than they did about their titles and wealth. And until their final minutes, they never seem to have suspected they would be executed.