Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Dreaming Anastasia by Joy Preble

I had come across a free download of Dreaming Anastasia on Surlalune almost exactly three years ago, and finally got around to reading it this week. It caught my attention because of its unique blend of Russian folklore/Baba Yaga with the legend that Anastasia Romanov had managed to survive the shooting that ended the Russian dynasty back in 1918. Like many girls my age I was exposed to the story through the animated movie from 1997, and I also had the Royal Diaries book on Anastasia, which was the more historically accurate version. Those two things had inspired me, years later, to read up more on what actually happened.

Unfortunately the truth is not quite as romantic. First of all, it was never Anastasia's body that was missing-it was Alexei's and Maria's-the famed daughter's remains were with her family all along while the world searched for her. Even their bodies were discovered not too long ago, confirming the fact that none of the Romanovs survived the shooting. However, the story is still not without mystery-the life and death of Rasputin are fascinating and downright creepy to read about.

I'm pretty sure that, had I not already been nerdy about the Romanov family, this novel would have gotten me into it. Overall, it's not the best writing I've ever come across, even for young adult novels. Maybe just because I haven't read and YA novels in a while (at least not that weren't fairy tales set back in Once Upon a Time where none of the characters had cell phones) but I was initially shocked by the speech of the main characters, which consisted of a lot of "likes" and "whatevers" and talking about how hot certain boys were and how far they would go with them (am I sounding enough like an old lady yet? Not to mention this was my first time ever reading a book on Kindle...I know I'm old fashioned but I just like holding and flipping through books). However, it was still entertaining, if not a bit predictable. There were other factors I liked too, like references to ballet, the story of Swan Lake, and a Chicago setting.

From the book description you get a pretty good idea of the plot:

What really happened to Anastasia Romanov?

Anastasia Romanov thought she would never feel more alone than when the gunfire started and her family began to fall around her. Surely the bullets would come for her next. But they didn't. Instead, two gnarled old hands reached for her. When she wakes up she discovers that she is in the ancient hut of the witch Baba Yaga, and that some things are worse than being dead.

In modern-day Chicago, Anne doesn't know much about Russian history. She is more concerned about getting into a good college—until the dreams start. She is somewhere else. She is someone else. And she is sharing a small room with a very old woman. The vivid dreams startle her, but not until a handsome stranger offers to explain them does she realize her life is going to change forever. She is the only one who can save Anastasia. But, Anastasia is having her own dreams…

"Vasilisa the Beautiful"
Ivan Bilibin

So according to this version, Anastasia's disappearance is due to the fact that Baba Yaga took her and she is trapped in the infamous hut on chicken's legs in the forest. Throughout there is a direct parallel made between Anastasia and Vasilisa the Beautiful, who has a doll given to her by her mother who helps protect her while staying with Baba Yaga.

I liked that the book explores the complex nature of Baba Yaga. Unlike many fairy tale witches, she isn't always always evil-sometimes she assists the main characters. Although the characters wonder if she can be trusted, she ends up being entirely benevolent in this version (spoiler alert: Anastasia refers to her as "Auntie Yaga," and the witch is heartbroken that Anastasia must leave her although she helped her escape). I almost wish they had made her a little more fearsome, for someone whose home is lit by human skulls can't be all motherly...
Ivan Bilibin

I also liked that the characters turned to reading fairy tales to help them find the clues they needed to get to Baba Yaga's hut (spoiler: it involves the rule of threes so common in fairy tales). This is an element I wish more of the modern fairy tale mystery treatments would do, like Grimm (although if the characters did more of this recently I wouldn't know, I stopped watching it).

I even learned some fascinating things about the Russian language. For example, "baba" is a word they give to a girl who has lost her virginity. Makes the character Baba Yaga even more complex...also, the name "Anastasia" means "reborn" or "resurrection." No wonder it seemed so perfect that she of all the Romanovs might still have been alive...

If this is up your alley, you should definitely check out The Kitchen Boy by Robert Alexander: historical fiction but uses a lot of facts, a really exciting read on the imprisonment of the Romanovs in the weeks before they died. Also, there are sequels to "Dreaming Anastasia"-Haunted and Anastasia Forever


  1. I also became interested in the Romanovs thanks to the animated film (that music box tune haunts me to this day~) and I vaguely remember a news story within the last few years where Prince Charles had his DNA tested against human remains to see if they were the Romanovs (inbred blue blood comes in handy after all!) Thanks for the book recommendations, I look forward to checking them out :)

  2. Isn't the whole subject so fascinating?? Let me know if you read either/both books and what you think of them!