The Tsarina’s Daughter

Written by Carolly Erickson
Review by Ilysa Magnus

Erickson calls this retelling of the fall of the Romanov family an “historical entertainment”—more like alternative history in many respects, while remaining historically accurate on many levels. Where Erickson diverges from historical fact is in permitting Tatiana Romanov (“Tania”) to survive the slaughter of her family and to tell her story under her assumed name decades later.

Erickson is clearly a talented writer, bringing many of her characters to a full, rich existence. Nicky is weak and truly pitiful with no sense of impending doom or any thought given to ways to avert it; Alexandra is a full-blown psych case with little meaningful existence; Grandma Minnie is a miserable, manipulative old witch. Tania is a lovely, thoughtful child who, despite the grand style in which she lives, develops a sense of social conscience, a sense that is utterly missing in the rest of her nuclear and extended families. She actually believes that the naked, cruel terror of the lives of the poor that surround her should be alleviated and she does her best, in her own small way. I suppose this is Erickson’s way of creating a raison d’etre for permitting Tania to live. Of all the characters, however, I was hoping that Rasputin would create a connection for me to the book, but I found Erickson’s portrayal of him not to be fully realized.

While I enjoyed Tania’s story and I recognize that none of the Romanovs survived, I was not engaged enough in the story to care about anyone other than Tania, and even then, not on a totally visceral level. However, Erickson is a master craftsperson, capable of telling a good, entertaining story and giving the reader sufficient historical facts to get a solid sense of time and place. Was the end of Czarist Russia a horrible place for those trying to survive? Erickson makes it so, and the squalid misery is palpable. I guess I was so annoyed by the absolute senselessness of Romanov life that I didn’t really care what happened to them.