Title: The Lost Crown
Author: Sarah Miller
No. of Pages: 448
Genre: Historical Fiction
Origins: Mine. All mine.
Bottom Line: Mediocre and very limited look at the last few months of the lives of the Romanov family.
Olga, Tatiana, Maria, and Anastasia. Like the fingers on a hand – first headstrong Olga, then Tatiana the tallest, Maria most hopeful for a ring, and Anastasia the smallest. These are the daughters of Tsar Nicholas II, grand duchesses living a life steeped in tradition and privilege. They are young women each on the brink of starting her own life. The summer of 1914 is that precious last wink of time when they can still be sisters together – who link arms and laugh, sisters who share their dreams and worries, and who flirt with the officers of their imperial yacht.But in a gunshot the future changes – for these sisters and for Russia.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 collides with the end of more than they ever imagined.
Thoughts: Once upon a time, Russia was ruled by royalty. Like all monarchies, the czar’s word was law, and – like the world over regardless of government type – there were good czars and poor czars. All of them were subject to the problems of their times. Between a world war, a crippling economy, and a growing workers movement, the last czar faced very unique pressures that none of his predecessors had to face. In The Lost Crown, Sarah Miller explores the impact these forces had, not on the czar but on his family. As they struggle to understand how they can go from being a beloved national treasure to enforced imprisonment by the same people, so too do the readers as they get a glimpse of what life was like in those final months before the Russian crown was forever lost.
As with any novel utilizing multiple narrators, keeping track of which Grand Duchess is speaking in each scene can prove to be very challenging. There were many a time when the story required flipping to the beginning of the chapter to see which narrator was telling the story. Even though there are differences between each narrator’s voice, the differences are slight when taken as a whole and do not offset the similarities among them, of which there are many.
Similarly, Ms. Miller uses the multiple viewpoints in an attempt to present a broader picture of what was occurring in Russia and what was happening to the family. Unfortunately, because the family stayed together, either by choice or by being forced into close quarters, the viewpoints of the girls does not vary all that much. The older daughters have a better grasp on the seriousness of their situation, but other than that, all four are limited in their understanding of the revolution and its total impact on not only Russia but on their family as well. In fact, much of the time, the girls are in a state of disbelief that there is a noticeable decrease in the reverence towards the Czar and his family. Because there is so little difference of opinion or of understanding among the four girls, the use of four narrators does nothing but overcomplicates the story and bogs down the overall narrative.
While Ms. Miller does not gloss over the hardships the family faced as the revolution swept across Russia, the complex politics and economics behind the revolution are all but ignored. This lack of backdrop provides some surprising consequences. On the one hand, the lack of background information serves to highlight how sheltered the girls were from the outside world. Yet, without this crucial macro-level information, key elements of the revolution become nothing but a young girl’s rant at the unfairness of the world. Granted, from the girls’ perspective, their rough treatment, their subsequent imprisonment, and ultimate fate are unfair, but there is always another side of the equation and to avoid discussing this with younger readers diminishes the importance of what happened and its future consequences for the world at large.
The Lost Crown is definitely meant for younger audiences. While the rest of the world concerns itself with a world war, food shortages, economic hardships, and the like, the Romanov children worry about keeping their brother safe, boys, clothes, and their familial happiness. Theirs is a very isolated and self-centered world, and they remain blissfully ignorant – partially by choice and partially by role – of what is occurring outside the palace walls. Because they are so young, their self-centeredness is understandable because being self-absorbed is a top teen characteristic. Younger readers can and will appreciate their frolicking and obliviousness, but older readers will find their ignorance and self-absorption disconcerting, made all the more tragic by their utter confusion and shock when the outside world begins to impose its will on the family.
In The Lost Crown, Ms. Miller attempts to show the world the Russian Revolution from the Romanov perspective. By writing it for young adults and using a narrow, young, and one-sided perspective, she further romanticizes the Romanovs and their fate. There is nothing wrong with that because what happened to the entire family was terrible. Still, one cannot help but feel that an opportunity was lost to help explain the other side, why the peasants revolted as they did and how the revolt was hijacked by others to further their own socialist agenda. Historical fiction is best when one can learn something from it, and the novel fails in this regard. Between this disappointing omission and the confusion wrought by the multiple narrators, the story fails to impress older readers. Even younger readers may find the lack of romantic interest, the nebulous understanding of the circumstances, and the very unhappy ending to be a bit too much for one’s thorough enjoyment of the story. It is a disappointing reaction to a novel that looks gorgeous and has such amazing potential behind it.