The fate of Anastasia, daughter of Tsar Nicholas II, the last Russian emperor, is at the heart of this cross-continental tale of espionage, infatuation, martyrdom, massacre and archaeology. Did the Bolsheviks kill her along with the rest of her family, as history tells us, or did she escape?
Meade, prompted by his discovery of Russian graves in the burial grounds of a small church in his native Ireland, concocts a history-based tale about an attempt to rescue the imprisoned Romanovs. The year is 1918. The man spearheading the operation is Boyle, a wealthy Irish-Canadian whose storied past includes being amateur heavyweight boxing champion in the U.S. His rescue team includes Lydia Ryan, an Irish gunrunner, and Andrev, a Russian army captain who escaped execution. The large cast of characters includes Borg, a laudanum-addicted American spy posing as a businessman who falls for the teenage Anastasia, and, in cameos, Lenin and Trotsky. The story is told by a man named Yakov to archaeologist Laura Pavlov. She tracks him down in the coastal Irish town of Collon after digging up the permafrost-preserved body of a young girl in Ekaterinburg, the Russian town where the Romanovs were killed. The girl is clutching a locket with the seal of the family. Could this be Anastasia, aka Anna Anderson? The novel is so stuffed with characters and narrative complications, not all of them compelling, that the princess' story gets a bit lost in the shuffle. And Andrev, "a truly remarkable man...who changed history," according to Yakov, doesn't make a deep impression. But give credit to Meade (The Second Messiah, 2011, etc.) for rebooting a story that, after various films, plays, mini-series and Steve Berry's 2004 novel, The Romanov Prophecy, seemed played out.
A flawed book, but one that has its moments.