Book: The Secret Daughter of the Tsar
Author: Jennifer Laam
Genre: Historical Fiction/Russian History
Summary: In her riveting debut, Jennifer Laam seamlessly braids together the stories of three women: Veronica, Lena, and Charlotte. Veronica, an aspiring historian living in present-day Los Angeles, meets a mysterious man who may be heir to the Russian throne. As she sets about investigating the legitimacy of his claim through a winding path of romance and deception, the ghosts of her own past begin to haunt her. Lena, a servant in the imperial court of 1902, is approached by the desperate Empress Alexandria. After conceiving four daughters, the empress is determined to sire a son and believes Lena can help her. Once elevated to the Romanovs' treacherous inner circle, Lena finds herself under the watchful eye of the meddling Dowager Empress Marie. Charlotte, a former ballerina living in World War II-era occupied Paris, receives a surprise visit from a German officer. Determined to protect her son from the Nazis, Charlotte escapes the city, but not before learning that the officer's interest in her stems from his long-standing obsession with the fate of the Russian monarchy. As Veronica's passion intensifies, and her search for the true heir to the throne takes a dangerous turn, readers learn just how these three vastly different women are connected. The Secret Daughter of the Tsar is thrilling from its first intense moments until its final, unexpected conclusion. -St. Martin's Griffin, 2013
This is another book that I was excited by at first, when I read the summary, but once I actually read it, I was disappointed. As always, spoilers will be kept to a minimum.
As explained in the summary, this story covers the lives of three different women. Veronica is a professor in modern-day LA, struggling to get tenure from her university. This struggle arises from the fact that her thesis is very specific and doesn't have many primary sources. When she is set up on a blind date with Michael, a Russian lawyer, she finds herself on a path that reveals more than she could have imagined.
Lena is a servant of Empress Alexandria. Loyal to the royal family, she decides to help the Empress after she asks Lena for advice on how to conceive a son. Lena's advice is innocent enough, but she becomes part of a plot that, if she fails, could mean the destruction of the Romanov Dynasty.
Charlotte is trying to survive Nazi-occupied Paris with her son. When a German officer comes to her boss's studio, she has to flee with her son in order that they might survive. In the process, she discovers that a simple visit from a German officer might not be as simple as she believes it to be.
All three plot lines sounded interesting to me, but the Lena and Charlotte story lines ended up being the better ones. These plots were much more fleshed out and didn't have as many holes as Veronica's. Lena and Charlotte were also much more likable than Veronica. I wanted to go beyond what was covered in their stories. They had very powerful plots that made you root for them and want them to succeed. Veronica's story was a little contrived and Veronica herself was not a likeable character in the least. I believe in limits on how much and how long a character can wallow in their suffering or their failings and Veronica reveled in her self-doubt too long for my taste. She also comes off at times as extremely arrogant, self-righteous, and, for a time, deceptive. I couldn't empathize with her and so when I reached the end, I couldn't sympathize with what happens to her. In fact, by the time I reached the end, and what I suspected starting at around the half-way point of the book was confirmed, all I could do was roll my eyes.
The climax of the main plot line (Veronica's) was solved through a deus ex machina, not through a natural flow of events. All of the tension that had been built throughout the previous chapters was completely eliminated at the drop of a hat. Realistically, it wouldn't have been resolved this quickly. It wasn't very satisfying and left the rest of the plot line a lot to be desired.
The relationship between Veronica and Michael, while benefiting from several time skips due to the nature of the novel, was built haphazardly so when trouble comes along, it falls like a house of cards. The conflict in their relationship isn't even really solved by the time the novel ends - it isn't given a proper chance to be resolved because the novel is over by the time it is addressed. I understand that Laam has since written a sequel to this, but the promise of a sequel isn't enough of an excuse to treat the resolution of the conflict the way she did.
As for the ending, well, I have to say it is predictable in a sense. I mentioned earlier that I suspected the end game around the halfway point of the novel and once it was confirmed, I wasn't that impressed. It was a kind of sickeningly sweet ending, but that may be because I don't like Veronica at all. It's a little clever, I will admit, but, due to the amount of Romanov fiction published, it's not that clever.
I bought the sequel to this before I had read this novel so I'm going to bite the bullet and read it anyway. Hopefully, it'll be better than this one - Veronica-wise at least. Lena and Charlotte's plot lines definitely make up for Veronica's. I'd recommend it based on Lena and Charlotte alone.
I give The Secret Daughter of the Tsar a B-.
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