Review: I Was Anastasia / by Madeleine Riley

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Note: Top Shelf Text received a copy of this text from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own!

I Was Anastasia was my most-anticipated 2018 read. I discovered Ariel Lawhon's writing last year when Anne Bogel chose The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress for a Modern Mrs. Darcy book club pick. We had a chance to chat with Ariel Lawhon as part of our book discussion, and I loved hearing her author story. She told us that she had just finished working on a new historical fiction book. Lawhon said that she had been in the middle of writing a completely different story when she had come across a newspaper article about the Romanov family. Reading the article gave her the chills, and she knew then that she had come across the idea for her next book. I was totally intrigued by that story and knew that I'd be waiting eagerly for news of its release. After our author chat with Ariel Lawhon, I immediately went out to get her second novel, Flight of Dreams, which you all know I absolutely loved. Flash forward a couple months and I began working with the team at Doubleday, who kindly sent me an advanced copy of I Was Anastasia for review.

All this just to say that as I picked up this title to read, I had high expectations for it, but reviewing it is really tricky because it could easily be spoiled, so forgive me for a brief and somewhat vague review.

I Was Anastasia is a historical fiction novel with an added contemporary narrative timeline (similar to the dual narratives of Kate Morton's works). The first narrative begins in Russia in 1918, from the perspective of Anastasia Romanov, Grand Duchess of Russia. The second narrative thread begins in Germany only two years later, when a young woman is pulled from a canal, shivering and covered in horrific scars. The woman claims to be Anastasia, having escaped from the tormentors who murdered the rest of the royal family. The woman comes to be known as Anna Anderson, and over the next 50 years, she battles both public opinion and the legal system in her quest to be recognized officially as the Grand Duchess.

Here's what I didn't love about this novel: the non-linear timeline. It was really disorienting to have the story leap from year to year, following a seemingly random pattern. I also felt minimal sympathy for the character of Anna Anderson -- she played the victim with abandon, leaving it up to others to fund her lifestyle and fight on her behalf. 

Despite my dislike for one of the main characters, I was totally hooked by the premise and caught up in the drama of the Romanov's decline and imprisonment. Throughout the entire story, Lawhon leaves the reader second-guessing the validity of Anna Anderson's claims -- I myself went back and forth thinking that she was an imposter and the rightful claimant. After reading, I went into a deep dive of Romanov history, but I wouldn't recommend doing so until after you've finished the book. The intrigue of the story kept me turning pages quickly, and as is Lawhon's style, the ending did not disappoint.

Bottom-Line Rating: 4/5

This title will be released on March 27, 2018