The Lost Crown by Sarah Miller

19 February 2012

The Lost Crown is one of the very first books that I bought for my brand spanking new Kindle but I’ve only just managed to read the whole thing despite starting it more than once and then putting it aside because it felt just too slow moving and peculiarly distant to capture my interest. I decided to give it another try though as we are planning to visit St Petersburg at some point this year and it’s re-awakened my interest in the doomed Romanov family. I’m glad I persevered but at the same time, it’s left me feeling a bit disappointed and I’m not sure why.

I HAD to read this though as I have been fascinated by the family of Nicholas II and Alexandra of Hesse for as long as I can remember and a novel told from the viewpoints of their four young daughters: Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia should be my exact cup of tea and it IS, it really is but the fact is that this is a story that is never going to end happily or at least shouldn’t, unless the author plays fast and loose with the facts and delivers up a cock and bull happy ending that would put Disney itself to shame.

That’s the thing with historical fiction based on real life people – you know how it is going to end and that usually makes for a pretty depressing read as, let’s face it, it’s the tragic sorts who generally end up attracting historical novelists like wasps around a picnic, isn’t it? Incidentally, my poor long suffering husband is always complaining about my nonchalant attitude towards ‘spoilers’ (he can’t abide them and will refuse to watch films or read books if he knows how they end) but I’ve been passionate about history for literally as long as I can remember so spoilers are kind of meaningless to me now.

However, all of that aside, although you know that The Lost Crown won’t end well for the Imperial family, it’s still a really nice read and it’s lovely to see events through the Grand Duchess’ own words as their situation becomes increasingly precarious and uncomfortable and their living space more claustrophobic. It’s horrible too, of course, but the sense of loyalty, love and affection that flows between them carries this book along and stops it being an endless parade of doom and gloom.

Each chapter is written from the viewpoint of a different sister and it’s not always easy to tell which one is ‘speaking’ although ultimately you do get a sense of the differences between them as there is Olga, the sensible eldest sister who has inherited her mother’s rather fatalistic melancholia; Tatiana, the pragmatic ‘governess’ and favourite of their mother, who is supposed to be the beauty of the family and deals with her nursing duties without flinching; Maria, who is the prettiest and sweetest natured and dreams of marrying a soldier and having a host of babies of her own to care for and the youngest, Anastasia, who is often spiteful and is renowned for her sharp tongue, hideous gurning and practical jokes.

Aleksei is my favourite from the family and we see him here through the eyes of his concerned sisters who flutter around him anxiously whenever he is ill. We also see Nicholas as the fond father he undoubtedly was and Alexandra as proud, anxiety ridden and troubled yet deeply loving. However, neither of them is ultimately able to protect their children from harm and their wider historical significance clearly isn’t the concern of this book so the major political events that swirl around them are barely touched upon or at least not explored in depth.

I’d definitely recommend this book to anyone who is fascinated with the Romanov family and their sad fate, but be prepared for a bit of a slow read at first and also a bit of irritation at occasional Americanisms and the bazillions of similes that litter the text. Okay, maybe you won’t mind it but it started to bug the hell out of me very very quickly.

I gave this three stars on Goodreads.

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