I Was Anastasia

Rating: 
Author: Ariel Lawhorn
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pub Date: Mar. 2018 (read June 2018)

I had pretty high expectations of this book and unfortunately it just did not live up to them. Anastasia was pretty much my favourite animated film growing up (even though it is not at all historically accurate) and I was super excited to read a whole book about the lost princess. Plus this book had the added intrigue of being written from two contrasting timelines.

I was Anastasia tells the story of the Romanov’s from two points of view. The first is from the POV of the Grand Duchess Anastasia, commencing at the Russian Revolution and leading towards the execution of the entire Romanov family. The second point of view is from a woman going under the name of Anna Anderson who claims to be the princess Anastasia. Anna’s story is told backwards, starting near the end of her life and chronicling her lifelong struggle to be formally recognized as the Grand Duchess.

I was super excited about the structure of this book, but it ended up not working for me at all. It’s a really interesting concept to tell a story backwards and I was definitely intrigued, but I felt it was very poorly executed. There were way too many names and dates and the timeline was constantly changing, so it was extremely difficult to keep track of what was happening and I eventually gave up. Plus the author would constantly end chapters on cliffhangers, but because the story was being told backwards, you would never re-visit that part of the story and it made everything feel very disjointed and de-valued the story because you were constantly meeting characters that only mattered for a chapter or two. It made character development very difficult and Anna Anderson a pretty unlikable character. Because I found her story difficult to follow, I was really only interested in Anastasia’s timeline and would dread every time I had to switch back to Anna (although to be honest, Anastasia’s story started dragging a little bit towards the end as well.)

There were still parts of this story I found interesting though. I’m going to talk about them below, but if you’re still interested in reading the book, than I would suggest not reading any further and not doing any prior research on the Romanov’s – just read the book. This has the potential to be an interesting read if you go into blind because of the way the author has written the story. So be aware that there are spoilers below and you shouldn’t read any further if you’re still planning to read this book.

So what I did like about this book is that I didn’t know Anna Anderson was actually a real person and this is where I think most of the enjoyment of this novel came from. I thought Anna was an entirely made up character and that the author was telling a fictional story to let us decide whether or not we thought Anna Anderson was actually Anastasia. I think this is the greatest strength of the book and I appreciated the authors note because she tells a story that makes you want to believe that Anna is actually Anastasia.

What I didn’t realize is that Anna Anderson is actually a real person and most of what is written in this novel about her is based on true events. Because there was so much secrecy surrounding the deaths of the Romanov’s, there was a great myth that maybe the youngest daughter had survived. There were many Anastasia impostors over the years, especially when it became known about the great wealth the Romanov’s had stored in the Bank of England. However, Anna Anderson is the most famous Anastasia impostor and she does deserve credit for keeping Anastasia and the Romanov’s legacy alive for many many years. She claimed to be Anastasia for over 50 years and had many supporters, many of who actually knew Anastasia, yet she was never able to successfully prove her claim.

I liked that, while the author did take some liberties, this was a historically accurate book. Both stories told in this book are based in fact and as horrific as they both are, they were very interesting to learn about. I can’t love this book because I did have a lot of problems with the timeline and I honestly just didn’t find the writing or the storytelling that compelling. But I learned a lot and I still appreciate what Lawhorn was trying to do with this book. Not a favourite for me, but an interesting read if you’d like to learn a bit more about Anna Anderson and the Grand Duchess Anastasia in her final year and a half of life.

June Monthly Challenge

I was too busy in May to do a monthly challenge and I actually really missed it. I love the flexibility of just being able to pick any book you want off the shelf, which I rarely do anymore between my challenges, book club, and netgalley reads, but I felt like my reading was a bit aimless without any reading goals to work towards in May.

I’m super excited about my June reading challenge though and I think I’ve picked out 3 great books for it. Historical fiction was my favourite genre for many years, but I’ve been a little fatigued with it over the last few years because I feel the genre is over-saturated with WW1 and 2 novels and books about slavery. So I got a lot more into fantasy and discovered all these YA fantasy series that have huge online followings, but I am starting to get a bit fatigued with this genre now because while there’s so much out there, once you start reading a lot of it, it tends to get a bit repetitive.

In an effort to branch out a little more again and return to a genre I love, I’ve decided that in June my monthly challenge will be to:

Read 3 Historical Novels

It was really hard to narrow it down to just 3 books, because I do have a huge list of historical novels that I’ve been wanting to get to, so I tried to focus on reading about stories set in different countries and different time periods. The three books I picked are:

1. The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
2. I Was Anastasia by Ariel Lawhorn
3. Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras

 

I read Kristin Hannah’s other bestseller, The Nightingale, in 2015 with my book club and we all really liked it. My book club liked it a little more than me because this was when I was really getting fatigued with the WW1 and WW2 books, but I did still like it. The Great Alone is her new book and has been getting fantastic reviews – I bought a copy on sale in February and I’ve been trying to get to it ever since. I don’t like to know too much about my books when I start reading them, but this is set in Alaska in 1974 and examines the aftereffects of a former Prisoner of War during the Vietnam War when he returns to Alaska.

I Was Anastasia is a fairly new release, but I feel like I’ve been waiting to read this one since I first saw a synopsis of it months ago. This is actually my book club selection for June, so I’m happy to be able to combine two of my reading lists this month. This is a WW1 book, but bear with me because this sounds different than any other WW1 book I’ve ever read! It’s about the grand duchess Anastasia and her supposed execution with the rest of the Romanov’s during the Russian Revolution. There’s always been speculation that Anastasia may have survived and in this novel, a young girl shows up in Germany 3 years later claiming to be Anastasia. Was anyone else obsessed with 20th Century Fox’ version of Anastasia growing up? Because I was and I am super excited for some bestselling, historical fiction about her! I’m on a journey to the past with this one folks.

My last pick of the month is a brand new, not-yet-released book that I only heard about recently. I’m not even sure where I first heard about Fruit of the Drunken Tree, I think Goodreads may have featured it in one of the lists of their blog, but it sounds so good. It’s a debut novel by Ingrid Rojas Contreras that was inspired by her own life growing up in the 1990’s in Colombia. It’s a coming-of-age story during a period of great upheaval and violence in Colombia and features a piece of history that I am not knowledgeable about and haven’t seen featured in historical fiction before. A big thanks to Penguin Random House Canada, who happily provided me with an advance copy of this book so that I could include it in my monthly challenge.

The Bear and the Nightingale

Rating: ⭐⭐.5
Author: Katherine Arden
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult, Historical Fantasy
Read: Nov. 2017

 

Well this was disappointing.

I have mixed feelings about how to rate it because the writing really was quite good and Arden created a very good sense of atmosphere in the novel. But the story just dragged on and on!

I found it hard to get into the plot and honestly for the first third of the novel I didn’t even really know what the plot was. The Bear and the Nightingale is set in this medieval version of Russia and focuses on the life of a young girl, Vasya, growing up in cold, northern, Rus. The story begins with her mother dying in childbirth and her nurse plying her with stories and fairytales about the spirits of the village.

The villagers believe in a number of different spirits – which I initially found very confusing because Arden never really explains them – and they leave gifts and sacrifices to the spirits in exchange for the protection of their village. Vasya is special because she can actually see the spirits – no one else can, they just trust in their existence.

The story finally gets going when the priest Konstantin shows up in the village and sees it as his task to convert the entire village to Christianity and save them from the demons. Vasya attends church out of duty, but continues to keep the old ways and Konstantin becomes determined to “save” her.

I did find the conflict between Konstantin and Vasya (Christianity and the old ways) interesting and very reminiscent of how colonizers and missionaries were determined to convert colonies to their ways and beliefs. But overall the story just felt too disjointed for me. Arden provided way too much background on Vasya’s childhood and I found the whole bear and winter-demon thing really confusing. Maybe I just didn’t get it, but I need some more context about where the bear came from and why the hell he cares about Vasya. It just all felt very contrived and too easily resolved at the end.

Overall I just thought it was weird and I never really got into it. A+ for the cover art, but I may take a pass on the rest of this series.