Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Emma's Review: The Lost Daughter by Gill Paul

Reviewed by Emma Crowley

With the country they once ruled turned against them, the future of Russia's imperial family hangs in the balance. When middle daughter Maria Romanova captivates two of the guards, it will lead to a fateful choice between right and wrong.

Fifty-five years later . . .
Val rushes to her father's side when she hears of his troubling end-of-life confession: 'I didn't want to kill her.' As she unravels the secrets behind her mother's disappearance when she was twelve years old, she finds herself caught up in one of the world's greatest mysteries.

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Many thanks to Headline for my copy of The Lost Daughter to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.

The Lost Daughter is the second book based on the Romanov family from historical fiction author Gill Paul and this time our attention turns to a different daughter of a famous family that for all the wrong reasons have left a huge mark in history. Previously we followed the fortunes of Tatiana but now it's Maria's turn to step into the spotlight as the author weaves a wonderful story as to what could have happened to Maria had she survived that horrific event that saw an entire family wiped out. Admittedly I did have a small amount of trepidation when beginning this book as I feared it may have been too similar to The Secret Wife in terms of the plot and I questioned what could the author have added that had not already been mentioned in the previous book.

Boy was I proven wrong, as within a couple of chapters I was sucked right into the story that took me on a roller-coaster ride through the history of Russia beginning in the summer of 1918 and taking me right up to the 1970's and on into the present day. This story was packed full of tension, horror, loss, heartache, death, destruction, romance, friendship and love. It really did deliver on all fronts and it certainly was an eye opener in terms of some of the events that unfolded. You needn't have read The Secret Wife to enjoy this brilliant story but trust me once you finish this exceptional read you will want to get your hands on Tatiana's story as soon as possible.

Gill Paul has clearly been struck by the tragic story of the Romanov’s and how the course of history may have been altered had they not been so cruelly executed in the manner in which they were at Ekaterinburg in July 1918. Gill's passion for her subject matter shines through from every page and the research undertaken must have been extensive and intensive given so much rich detail is apparent throughout every chapter. The book could have been in danger of straying into reading like a history textbook but instead alongside the necessary historical detail regarding wars and the political situation, the human aspect of the story was brilliantly interwoven and it all made for a riveting read. One which was packed full of twists, turns and of course surprises and reveals arise when you least expect them to, leaving the reader astounded and amazed yet at several points deeply heartbroken.

This is simply because you become so invested in the characters and given so much is being thrown at them one wonders can a positive outcome ever make itself known? Another aspect of the novel which I loved was that this was a dual timeline story and this is my absolutely favourite kind of historical read. We moved back and forth between Maria's story and that of Val in Sydney in 1973. I slightly preferred Maria's story simply because so much was going on in the world at the time and I was just completely hooked by everything she was experiencing. But Val's story was crucial to the overall plot and I really enjoyed how the story lines began to interconnect and make sense the further I read. It was very cleverly written by the author and to keep all the threads and sub plots going without confusion arising or even giving too much away which would have ruined the dramatic conclusion was a feat in itself.

The story begins as Maria in all her innocence has been transported to the small town of Ekaterinburg alongside her mother and father while the remaining sisters and their younger brother remain at Tobolsk until Alexei  is well enough to travel on. The Romanov family have been imprisoned, their countrymen are revolting and a royal family is not what is wanted. Maria feels out of place in the family, that she is the least favourite, the least attractive and the sister to receive the least amount of attention and affection from her parents. She has a keen eye for photography but feels constrained by the rules imposed by their imprisonment. To ease the boredom she engages with several of the guards and strikes up a friendship with some. Although an unnecessary, forceful event leads to an altering of her state of mind.

The family firmly believed that Ekaterinburg was merely a stopping place before being sent into exile or that a member of their family in Britain may rescue them. That was not to be and in dramatic, horrific scenes the unthinkable happens and the family are wiped out. Through sheer chance Maria is wounded but not fatally. She awakens to a brutal scene before her eyes in some forestry and sees one of the guards she has made friends with - Peter Vasnetov. Peter rescues Maria and takes her away deep into the forest. So begins a unique relationship that will only deepen the further they venture into spinning a web of secrets that must be kept hidden at any cost. For the truth to emerge that one of the Romanov princess's survived would be disastrous. Maria has narrowly escaped death once at the cost of losing her family bar Tatiana she does not wish to venture down that road quite so soon again.

The relationship and subsequent story that developed between Maria and Peter was fascinating and it occurred at a real turning point in history. It didn't feel out of the realms of possibility and this reader would have liked to believe that something like this could have occurred. I was delighted to see such breath and depth to the story and that the timespan was so far reaching. That the author really took us on a journey and we were allowed to witness the transformation Maria undergoes. From a life of riches and ease as the daughter of a royal family to someone who is just another member of Russian society battling through the hardships inflicted by the powers that be in the hopes of making Russia the greatest and most productive nation. Far from feeling like the odd one out, Maria establishes herself as a woman of great strength, courage and tenacity. The deep love between herself and Peter keeps them united through the innumerable bad times which seem to far outweigh the good especially as we reach World War Two.

The chapters set during this time period were incredibly evocative and powerful. I could visualise the deprivation, hardship, sorrow and tragedy that ensues for Maria, her family and so many innocent others. At times this was a difficult read given what the characters were enduring and at once stage there was just such injustice and it didn't seem fair at what befell a character that had come to mean so much. But through everything Maria garners her strength and never stops believing that good can overcome evil, that justice can prevail and that love can win out. She is a changed person from the young girl we first meet because life has thrown so many obstacles and ordeals in her way but it is the manner in which she overcomes these and learns time and time again to adapt is what makes me admire her so much. Gill Paul has given Maria Romanov a tremendous voice in this story and she has shone from every page.

As for the story with Val, as I have previously stated although not my favourite of the two it still did hold my attention. Val and Maria both demonstrate similar personality traits and it was enjoyable seeing these comparisons emerge between the pair. Val in the beginning is meek and sub servant in her marriage to Tony. Tony is the complete opposite to Peter in that he is a brute who rules the roost with an iron fist. He loves exerting his authority and controlling every aspect of Val's life. Even more so when the father she has lost contact with dies and Val is left a house and some money. But the straw that breaks the camel's back is when daughter Nicole becomes the focus of his tensions and anger explosions. Val was a character who needed to grow a backbone and find the courage to leave the situation she was in. If she could not do this than a life of danger and terror would be hers forever.

As she clears her fathers house of its belongings she starts to realise he was not the man she believed him to be and maybe the ramblings of an old man in his last days in a nursing home may actually make some sense and have an element of truth in them. Strange connections with the past begin to appear and Val questions everything she has ever known especially when it comes to what she has been told about her Chinese mother. It was brilliant to see Val emerging from a cocoon of fear and terror. She started to think for herself, to strike out on her own and to bring a resolution to what has been niggling away in the back of her mind ever since she heard the mutterings of her father. Extraordinary events begin to unfold and a real sense of mystery began to emerge and of the past resonating in the present. As if everything was aligning in one big over arching story, the ending the reader could only simply guess at but in the process of doing so my enjoyment of this incredible story only grew stronger.

It was only as I regretfully neared the end of The Lost Daughter did I fully understand how clever Gill Paul had been in dropping the most subtle of hints every now and again. It made me realise what planning must have gone into this story once the research had been concluded and the writing itself began. I found myself engaged in the lives of Maria and to a slighter less extent that of Val from beginning to end. By the last paragraph I was sad to say good bye to these characters but can safely say I was deeply satisfied with the ending.

The Lost Daughter is an unmissable read that you will wish could continue on and on as the chapters simply fly by and you feel as if you have only begun the book and then it has ended. You lose time while reading this excellent read as you are transported back in time to witness a remarkable story that as I have said you wish had some elements of truth in it as to the eventual outcome. This is definitely an impressive read and a worthy companion to The Secret Wife and one of my reading highlights of the year.

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