Monday, April 11, 2011

Diamond Secret by Suzanne Weyn

Nadya is a servant in a small Russian tavern. She has no memory of her childhood, and no prospects except for being a servant all her life when two ex soldiers enter her life. Ivan once served in the army, until he was sent to murder the royal family. He knows that one of the children, a girl named Anastasia, survived, but probably drowned in the river when she fell into it after being shot. Sergei, on the other hand, is an ex-nobleman looking for his wife and son, who disappeared in the chaos of post-revolution Russia.

Sergei has read that the Empress Marie, the last royal relation left alive, has heard rumors of Anastasia's survival and is looking to find her. So he hatches a plan: find a girl that looks like she could be Anastasia, and coach her on the skills she will need to pretend to be the Princess, get the Empress's reward and split the cash. Sergei will use his half to find his wife and son, and Ivan can escape to America to start a new life, or do whatever he wants.

When they come upon Nadya, they think that this girl seems perfect for the job, and her Amnesia will only help them in their plan, since they can say she has lost all her memories and simply cannot remember her past. But the woman who owns the tavern warns them that Nadya is insane- she spent time in an insane Asylum before the woman employed her at the tavern. Still, her sense of humor and lightheartedness, along with her occasionally imperious attitude, make them more than willing to take her on. They don't tell her of the reward or their plan to hoodwink the Empress, merely that the Empress sent them to find her granddaughter, and that they believe that Nadya is Anastasia.

But as they travel across Russia, Germany and many other countries in between Russia and France, where the Empress is living, Nadya begins having strange, troubling dreams of her life before the tavern, and living in the Palace with the Tsar and his family. But is Nadya actually Anastasia, or merely the daughter of a palace servant, and can she convince the Empress that she actually is Anastasia? And when she and Ivan begin to develop feelings for each other, can she leave him behind, or will he leave her out of a misplaced sense of class? For he, the son of a peasant, can never reach high enough to have Anastasia as his wife. And will Sergei ever find his wife and son? And who is the strange man with the scarred face that seems to be following them, and what does he want with Nadya? Will Nadya ever have the fairytale life that she sees in her dreams again?

Needless to say, this book is based on the true life of Princess Anastasia of Russia, and in large part on that of Anna Anderson, who believed that she was actually Anastasia, who had survived the assassination of the Russian Royal family and somehow survived many years before being rediscovered. Of course, Anna Anderson wasn't Anastasia, she was a German mental patient who seemed to think she was the Russian Princess, but was only discovered to be an impostor after her death. It's uncertain, due to her mental condition, whether she was aware that she was an impostor or if she actually believed that she was Anastasia.

In this story, the truth of the matter is soon revealed, but we get to fall in love with Nadya, who was pale and rather sickly until she, Sergei and Ivan had to work their way across Europe. She delights in her new strength, much to the horror of Sergei, who needs to keep Nadya looking like a Princess, and tanned skin and muscles are not in the image he wants to present her with. And Ivan soon becomes deeply concerned that their plans only screw Nadya over in the end.

But the Empress may be old, but she is no fool, and she refuses to pay the reward unless and until Nadya can be proven to be the Royal Duchess Anastasia. But can Nadya prove to the Empress who she is, and how will she react when she finds out about the reward promised by the Empress, which Ivan and Sergei haven't mentioned? Will Anastasia choose love or royalty? I'll bet most readers will be able to guess before the book even starts, but it was still a nice, exciting read. Recommended, but not much of a mystery to those who know their history. Still, solid.

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