Anastasia Romanov may be royalty, but that doesn't mean she doesn't have problems. Her brother, Alexei, is dealing with the life-threatening disease of hemophilia, which has no known cure. Her older sisters are dealing with the likes of men and society, while she's stuck in a time-warp of 'little girl' proportions. Tsar Nicholas the Second, her father, is worrying about a revolution going on in Russia, all the while watching his wife become entranced by the workings of 'holy man' Grigory Rusputin. Behind the scenes, a friendship with a soldier named Sasha also threatens to shatter the fragile piece of the family....
And then war is imminent. Battle lines are drawn, and the people of Russia are ready to take up arms. Sasha and Anastasia's relationship, which is barely able to be kept, is laced with feelings of something more. Grigory's influence on Alexandra and her son, Alexei, is growing tighter, and the governing of the country is becoming harder and harder to maintain. How is a girl supposed to grow up knowing the harshness of war, when she only knows what goes on in her own little world of royalty?
The characters that make up the pages of a historical novel are the hardest part to work out. History shows us a factual face, personal accounts give us a general personality, and rarely, we have diaries or journals that show the true mind of the figure. Anastasia had the first two down, and thus she's been pictured as a tom-boy with a lot of spunk and a mindset unlike the rest of her family. I always loved her general personality, and thus I'm really picky about how people depict her. Dunlap gives her a fresh face, keeping her rambunctious attitude and coupling it with the thought processes of a teenage girl on the brink of adulthood when she just isn't ready for it. The depth showed great apt for characterization. Anastasia constantly worries about things that we all can relate to, such as her relationship with Sasha, and things that we can never imagine, like the Bolshevik uprising in Russia. Her family is also depicted stunningly, with great personalities that are flexible yet true to what history tells us. Sasha didn't appear much, which disheartened me. His whole relationship with Anastasia was pretty thread-bare compared to the rest of the story. It was marketed as being more of a love story, so I felt cheated in that respect. The various servants and such also got confusing, but they were interchangeable, and more for historical accuracy than for characterization.
Plot and historical accuracy are also important. Being an Anastasia fan-boy, I naturally had an above-basic knowledge of what went on with the Romanovs, and I was immensely pleased to see a ton of historical fact and care used in the novel. Basic facts were there (i.e. the Romanov's various pets, the political cartoons about Rusputin and the Romanov women), but she got everything down to the time of events(though Dunlap admitted to lightly moving some around to fit the character's needs, which was understood). The plot moved fast for me, and the interest in what would happen with Sasha and with Anastasia's handling of the war kept me going strong, though I could see how a reader less history-minded would get bored at some intervals.
Rating a historical novel is really hard, but as a fan of the time period, character, and history of events, I can't help but love this book. Dunlap did everything right in her research, and it comes out as a beautiful tapestry dedicated to a teenage girl often placed as a little kid. I'll admit I never really realized the impact of Anastasia's real age at the time of the events - and Dunlap gave me a lot to think about with that. Even her ending note provided a great website to go to about the Romanovs, as well as some insight as to how the novel got started. The relationship with Sasha and some lack of interest in day-to-day events will dissuade readers who don't normally read the genre, but the writing is great, Anastasia is fresher than ever, and Dunlap just does too much right for me to not tell others to consider reading this book.
Reviewed by: John Jacobson, aka "R.J. Jacobs"