Book review: Anastasia’s Secret by Susanne Dunlap

Anastasia’s Secret by Susanne Dunlap

Available March 2


The youngest grand duchess in the Russian imperial family comes of age during the  revolution. Her family is imprisoned, conditions become worse and worse.

But Anastasia has a secret that she keeps from her family, a love that endures through the horrors of war and the privation of imprisonment and deprivation.

Will her love save her from the fate her family seems destined for? Or is she a creation of a rarefied atmosphere, unable to survive without her loved ones?


(Full disclosure: I was slightly obsessed with the Anastasia Romanov story when I was younger and probably know more about it than your average person — the point being that I went into this with high expectations and an eye toward historical accuracy.)

The best place to start is the beginning – in this case, a rather rocky, formulaic beginning. Since Anastasia is quite young when the story opens, the first-person voice follows suit, discussing a child’s issues from a child’s perspective. That’s fine, I thought, this book must be geared toward younger readers, perhaps in the 9- to 12-year-old range.

Except that as Anastasia matures, so does the voice and writing, making the beginning few chapters feel juvenile to older readers, but with later content unsuitable for younger ones.

Dunlap happened to address this issue the same day this review was written:

I completely agree. The later subject matter includes scenes discussing puberty that are a bit unnecessary (we get it – she’s growing up) as well as Anastasia’s very-much-adult love affair. However, it is around the time this love affair takes off that the writing improves and Dunlap seems to hit her stride.

Anastasia and her family of dethroned royals are embroiled in what becomes the Bolshevik Revolution, during which the monarchy and a moderate provisional government are overthrown. Dunlap does a great job simplifying a complex political movement, neither watering down the subject matter nor burdening the reader with too many details. This is Dunlap’s strong suit and perhaps she should try her hand at nonfiction for young adult readers.

The fiction part of the novel, however, is secondary. The secret to which the title alludes is far-fetched, so far-fetched that I couldn’t get past it to enjoy other elements of the book. Dunlap hints at possibilities of double-crossing, but they never come to fruition (sorry for that tiny spoiler), and the climax … there isn’t one. Looking back, I can see what the climax was supposed to be, but I don’t think it was clear enough.

The most interesting part of the book is the epilogue, which explains what actually happened to Anastasia and her family after the book’s end.

I was prepared to love this book, but I think those who know the full story ahead of time will have problems with it. Those who do not know the story — and those who don’t often read historical fiction — will probably enjoy it much more.

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