Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Lost Crown - Sarah Miller

Title: The Lost Crown
Author: Sarah Miller
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2011 (Paperback)
Length: 412 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Historical Fiction
Started: February 9, 2013
Finished: February 17, 2013

From the back cover:

Olga, Tatiana, Maria, and Anastasia - the daughters of Nicholas II, the last Romanov tsar, grand duchesses living a life steeped in tradition and privilege. Each girl is on the brink of starting her own life, though, and this, the summer of 1914, is that precious last wink of time when they can still be sisters together: sisters who link arms and laugh, sisters who share their dreams and worries and flirt with the officers of their imperial yacht.

But with a gunshot the future changes - for these sisters and for their country.

As World War I ignites across Europe, political unrest sweeps Russia. First dissent, then disorder, mutiny - and revolution. For Olga, Tatiana, Maria, and Anastasia, the end of their girlhood together is colliding with the end of more than they ever imagined.

I'm a Russian history geek, especially regarding the Romanovs. My husband is too, hence why we named our daughter Anastasia (he wouldn't go for Olga ^_~). So anytime a novel comes out about them, particularly about the daughters as a whole or Anastasia, I tend to pick it up. I'm a stickler for well-researched historical fiction, but thankfully that wasn't an issue here. If nothing else can be said about this novel, it's well researched, and that itself is an understatement. Pages upon pages of references, plus usage of information in the book that only a scholar would know.

The novel incorporates four alternating first person points of view, one for each of the grand duchesses, spanning from 1914-1918. Normally this would be a turn-off, many authors simply cannot do multiple points of view very well. Here however, it works surprisingly well. Anastasia and Tatiana are the most obvious voices: Anastasia the joker with the more forceful personality out of the sisters, and Tatiana the caregiver, most concerned for their mother. Olga and Maria are a little less obvious and can sometimes meld together, but overall the four voices were distinct and I didn't have much trouble distinguishing each one.

There's a glossary at the beginning thankfully, since the author incorporates a lot of Russian words and nicknames. It made for a lot of flipping back and forth from text to glossary, but at least I know some Russian vocabulary now.

There is a lot of history tied up in the story of the Romanovs, and someone without general knowledge of WWI and what was going on in Russia at the time might have a hard time following. I think I know more about those two areas of history than the average person, and even I had to look some things up to refresh my memory. Thankfully the author does include several historical notes to clue people in to more obscure details, but basic history is still up to the reader.

Since anyone who knows the fate of the imperial family will know the ending of the book, then the beauty is not in the plot but in the details. I like the portrayal the author's done here: naive, somewhat sheltered about events yet still aware, but completely in the dark about how everyday Russians lived and why citizens would want the monarchy gone. I like how the author has portrayed their double whammy vulnerability as young women and as deposed royals with increasing fear for their own safety. I like how the author included the many ways they were vilified through propaganda in contrast to the way they likely were, sheltered but not intentionally cruel or negligent.

A wonderful, well-written addition to the line of 'Romanov' books, it will surely be of interest to a fan, but might bore someone with nothing invested in the history.

Thoughts on the cover:
I like it how the face is cut off so the 'identity' is questionable, and that the model used is dressed in such a way that she actually looks like either Maria or Anastasia. The other three girls are on the back of the cover, but that image is intentionally blurred so you can't see details either. I love the cream and yellow colour scheme with the pearls, very appropriate.

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