This historical fiction novel is based around the life of Masha, the daughter of the infamous Rasputin. After his death, she is sent to live with the Romanovs and this novel tells of her life through the stories which she shares with the young tsarevich Alyosha.
The novel was told in very descriptive writing, making the reader feel immersed in the early 1900s Russia during the long, dark days of the Romanovs’ house arrest. The stories that Masha shared with Alyosha were interesting as well, a mixture of fact and embellishment which gave the people and places and events a fantastical, mystical feel.
This was also, however, a downside of the novel. I’ll admit that my extent of prior knowledge of the Romanovs is incredibly limited, so I had no idea what of Masha’s stories was fact and what was fiction (aside from the obvious magical elements). The novel also bounced around a lot, not following any discernible order of events. One moment, Masha would be talking about her life as a child in Siberia, and the next about her adult life in Paris with her husband, followed by a scene with Alyosha before the Romanov exile, and ending in a dream sequence that is supposed to fit in somewhere after Alyosha’s death. This made it very hard to just pick it up and put it down throughout the day, as I’d forget what the time frame and setting was and have to go back and re-read sections to remember what was going on.
Although I liked Masha’s character, I got really irritated with Alyosha’s character. Besides being kind of a snotty, selfish brat, the author portrayed the teenaged tsarevich as having an insatiable sexual appetite, and focused an embarrassing amount of attention on his desire to have sex before his inevitable death.
Overall, I think this book just really wasn’t my piece of cake. Though there were parts that were very beautiful written, I felt like I was having to struggle through a lot of it due to the style and layout of the novel.