Book Reviews

[review] Anastasia’s Secret – Susanne Dunlap

For Anastasia Romanov, life as the privileged daughter of Russia’s last tsar is about to be torn apart by the bloodshed of revolution. Ousted from the imperial palace when the Bolsheviks seize control of the government, Anastasia and her family are exiled to Siberia. But even while the rebels debate the family’s future with agonizing slowness and the threat to their lives grows more menacing, romance quietly blooms between Anastasia and Sasha, a sympathetic young guard she has known since childhood. But will the strength of their love be enough to save Anastasia from a violent death?

Inspired by the mysteries that have long surrounded the last days of the Romanov family, Susanne Dunlap’s new novel is a haunting vision of the life-and love story-of Russia’s last princess.

Discovery: I was perusing the New Teen Fiction page on the Toronto Public Library website a few weeks ago and saw this novel on the first page. I’ve been fascinated by Anastasia’s story ever since I saw the 1954 film with Ingrid Bergman.

+     Historical accuracy. No one will ever be able to say that Dunlap wasn’t true to Anastasia’s history. Everything, from the names of her nannies and guards to her hobbies inside the palace and to her most personal nicknames, is provided. Her life is literally an open book for the reader to step into and inhabit. I was especially impressed by Dunlap’s use of the family’s trips to characterize Anastasia and her sisters.

–     Writing style. I’m not sure if this was deliberately written for the younger end of the YA spectrum, but the tone and style of the novel don’t fit Anastasia’s age. There were numerous paragraphs where facts were simply put into sentences, and at times it felt as though Anastasia was simply a detached observer of those events or people.  While I understand that this book may be a reader’s first introduction to the Romanovs, a lot of the fact-listing proves to be unnecessary at the points in which they’re introduced.

–     One-dimensional characters. This is the biggest problem I had with the novel. Over the course of my childhood and adolescence, I’ve run into many books and films that try to tell Anastasia’s story in a new way. That said, it takes a lot to impress me, mostly because there’s no real reinterpretation that can be done. It’s history.

This is the first novel I’ve read where Anastasia and her family felt like cutouts, paper dolls of the real thing. Some books, especially the Royal Diaries, are able to touch and take in the voice of the grand duchess and make her words believable. Anastasia’s Secret never really gets off the ground. While reading it, there’s always the sense that Dunlap is dancing around the real passions and interests of the princess without ever truly touching them. The relationship that springs up between Anastasia and a former palace guard falls flat almost as soon as it starts, because there is simply no spark. It’s difficult to believe because neither of them seem to actually like one another. The dialogue is apathetic and sparse which provides no help to the undeveloped characters.

Recommendations: Younger readers may enjoy this book, and as a history lesson, it’s certainly easy reading. Anastasia buffs can definitely pass this one up, however, as it doesn’t really add anything new to the story.

Rating: Satisfactory.

Go check out Susanne Dunlap’s site and follow her on Twitter @Susanne_Dunlap.

Next review: Darkest Mercy, Melissa Marr

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