A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
This historical fiction book aims to be as factual as possible and provides a great deal of information about the final years of the Romanov family, particularly the four grand duchesses. Readers will learn a great deal about the last Imperial family, their personalities, interests, and beliefs.
The overwhelming message of this story is the importance of faith and family. Despite imprisonment and increasingly bad treatment, the Romanovs are a very close family who care about those immediately around them and have a strong faith that God will protect and provide. Of course, the four sisters are completely sheltered and don't really understand how their parents' rule has led to their house arrest.
Positive Role Models
The sisters are all kind, generous, and exemplary young women. They are not at all the stereotypical spoiled rich girls that you might expect from four imperial grand duchesses. Olga is smart and insightful; Tatiana is always taking care of others; Maria is sweet to everyone, even the guards assigned to them; Anastasia is clever and makes people laugh.
Violence & Scariness
The grand duchesses discuss what they know (it varies greatly from sister to sister) of World War I, and the socio-political circumstances that lead up to their father's abdication and their arrest. As Red Cross nurses, Olga and Tatiana tend to wounded Russian soldiers and even assist in amputations. Rasputin's murder is discussed, but not at length. The guards have weapons, including machine guns, and occasionally there is an accidental shot heard. Olga seems to understand that the future is bleak. In the final pages, the entire family and their closest staff are assassinated. An epilogue graphically describes the bloody execution.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
A couple of the tsarinas mention crushes they've had on soldiers; Maria gets to know her guards and is often referred to as flirtatious; at one point a guard tells her she's a "regular Russian girl" and admits he'd love to rescue her from imprisonment and marry her. Olga jokes about being "an old virgin," and her sisters tease her about their cousin being one of her proposed matches. The sisters also wonder if the others have ever been kissed and allude to wedding nights, pregnancy, and the danger of being four young women among so many soldiers. Maria believes her parents still need to be "alone" at night and overhears her mother giggle when their father kisses her goodnight. The tsar and tsarina are very affectionate and loving with each other.
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Some insults, including a Russian word for "bitch." Other insults include "swine," "Bolshie," "pig," "idiot," "stupid," and "disgrace." The guards become increasingly surly, and in a couple of cases, outright disrespectful.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Nicholas and several of the other men mentioned in the diaries smoke cigar, cigarettes, or pipes. The daughters drink wine (but this would've been socially acceptable considering the duchesses' ages, social status, and the strange circumstances). A particularly belligerent officer is known to drink and carouse in the next room. Olga and Tatiana refer to a few men as having liquor on their breath or acting in a drunken manner. Both the Tsarina and young Alexei take various pills and medications for their chronic illnesses.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that this book is a fictionalized diary of Tsar Nicholas II's four daughters in the final years of their lives. The novel is based on the author's exhaustive research, but some teens may need help sorting out fact from fiction. The sisters mention but don't really witness any violence, as for the most part they were decently treated even in captivity. There's still some gritty material: As wartime Red Cross nurses, they discuss injured soldiers, amputations, and death -- and the family's ultimate execution is graphically described. Anyone who reads this book will learn a great deal about the Romanov family, although not so much about the revolution that led to their family's demise.
Is It Any Good?
After years of extensive research, Miller provides an amazingly detailed fictionalization of how the four grand duchesses spent their final years. Although it's not the most gripping novel at the start, the "action" picks up after the family's faith healer, Grigori Rasputin, is killed and their father abdicates. For many teens, it will be difficult to relate to these young women, who've been brought up in the isolated manner of all royal children, but parts of their story are universal: they long to be free of their constraints; they dote on but are jealous of their spoiled but chronically ill baby brother, Alexei; they love their parents unconditionally; they are closer even than the March girls of Little Women but still fight; they wonder if they'll ever fall in love, marry, have children. In the end, it's the girls' struggle to hold on to the beautifully ordinary aspects of daily family life that will move readers.
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