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What if one of Tsar Nicholas II's daughters (Tatiana, not Anastasia this time) didn't die in Siberia? What if she was rescued, in fact, by an impetuous young American diplomat? That's the far-from-plausible premise of this rather crude historical romance--which, though hard-working in its period details, fails to generate much real involvement in the odd-couple lovers as the unshapely narrative slogs along. Poyer's unlikable hero is Bill Evans, a ne'er-do-well Casanova in the US diplomatic service who is injured in a 1916 Russia riot and nursed back to health aboard the Tsar's personal train. Thus, when the Tsar's family is spirited off to Tobolsk a year later, it's Evans who is sent to check up on them on behalf of the ambivalent Allies--but Evans' visit is cut short by the cruel Bolshevik guards. And after a disastrous stint as US liaison with the White Russian forces in the south, Evans goes off on his own to find the Romanovs--who are not shot to death in Ekaterinburg (as is generally believed) but are really on their way to Moscow for trial. Evans tracks them down, rescues them (with dubious ease), turns them over to the Whites. . . who (for political reasons) succeed in killing all but Grand Duchess Tatiana. So the rest of the book follows the bedraggled 1918-20 travels of Evans and Tatiana through the Urals--intermittently pursued by Cheka commissar Sheremetiev, a former Imperial Army captain who has been turned into a zombie-esque killer by the Bolsheviks. Evans saves Tatiana from rape; they become lovers (despite her religious guilt); she is soon pregnant; their baby daughter is killed; the lovers head for the border, are separated by a brawl and influenza, and finally reunite--in a showdown with Sheremetiev. Poyer clearly intends for this trio of character transformations to hold his long, thinly plotted novel together; unfortunately, however, while the effort is clear, the principal players remain unlifelike throughout. And the undistinguished writing, though fairly effective in the many violent moments, fails to provide the texture needed to carry off this sort of imaginary-history proposition. Still: some obvious appeal for Romanov enthusiasts--who may or may not appreciate the gritty, graphic evocations of ordeals and atrocities.

Pub Date: July 21st, 1982
Publisher: Atheneum