Cover Image: Daughters of a Dead Empire

Daughters of a Dead Empire

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Member Reviews

A long time fascination with the Romanov family makes this a satisfying and interesting read! Enjoyable by those who enjoy history and those who are just here for a good adventure story.
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I was excited to start this book, as most of the historical fiction I've come across/read is centered more on Western history, and while I've read some books based on Russian folklore, I've read very little actually focused on historical events. However, something about this book didn't quite overall hook me or connect with me, though there are still quite a few things I enjoyed about this story.

My favorite thing about this book has to be that it centers the friendship between Anna and Evgenia, and how it follows the ups and downs of their relationship as they struggle with the big topics they fundamentally disagree on. It means that throughout this entire book, Anna and Evgenia are forced to struggle with and think about both each other's beliefs and their own, and how in the end they both do want the same thing, but believe in different sides of the country getting them there. I also just really enjoyed in general that this remains the focus of the story throughout, and no romance suddenly appears to distract from this main aspect. It's refreshing to see and also works really well in this book, as it gives readers a way to see both sides of the war and also how the two might be able to reconcile with each other, if only they took a moment to see the humanity on the other side.

This book also heavily focuses on the civil war, of course, and the tragedies that occur during it, and there are many moments where we see various characters drowning in grief. It's extremely tough to read (or listen to, in my case) at points, but the author does a superb job at writing this grief in a way that makes you truly feel it as well, even if you can't exactly relate to these levels of loss and pain. Additionally, there are many moments where the pair is being hunted down, and I honestly felt so terrified in those moments for them, my heart racing as they looked behind them as they ran. It was all very emotionally written, in a way that steals your attention and keeps it.

I think maybe my main issue is that this book overall felt quite long without much happening physically in terms of their journey. The main journey does happen mentally, for both Evgenia and Anna, as they both learn from each other and the suffering they go through, but sometimes the story seemed to almost slow or pause as these developments were occurring. There wasn't enough happening in their physical journey to match their character growth, and it almost felt like they were moving in circles while growing as people. There's something to be said about that, being stuck in a physical space while you wait for your mind to catch up, but it didn't feel intentional in that sense. It just didn't fully work for me in the end, largely due to how stagnant parts of the book felt because of it.

Overall, I did end up enjoying this, but not quite as much as I thought I would. I'm still interested in what this author writes next, and hope that the next one will work a bit better for me!
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First, I want to give this book points for being a YA novel with NO romance. That is such a rare thing to find these days. 

This novel is a retelling of the Anastasia story - in this version, Anastasia very much remembers who she is.  She is trying to flee to safety across a warring Russia whilst being pursued by the man who murdered her family. She meets Evgenia, a poor girl who is devoted to the Bolshevik cause. The two become unlikely friends, and both have to take a hard look at the cause they believed in and decide what they really want Russia to become.

What I loved about this book was the growing friendship between Anna and Evgenia. I enjoyed seeing their relationship grow. I really loved the character of Evgenia and how she learns and changes over the course of the story. Her arc was my favorite thing about this novel.

I also really liked how realistic this story felt - it wasn't the fairytale I expected it to be, which was refreshing. There was a lot of detail about the Romanov family and it really set the tone as a historical story rather than the typical fairytale version of Anastasia that I'm used to seeing. 

This story was full of action, though it seemed to move a bit slowly in the first half. But that's ok because the second half more than makes up for it.

What I loved most about this novel was that the author does a great job of letting Anastasia and Evgenia grapple with their beliefs and the causes they stand behind. Because we get both of their perspectives, we really see inside their minds and come to understand why they think the way they do. 

I really enjoyed this story and recommend it to anyone who wants to read about the Russian Revolution or read a realistic retelling of the Anastasia story.
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Daughters of a Dead Empire was such a pleasant surprise! I always enjoy a good Anastasia retelling, but can’t help but be skeptical at some of the books that have come out over the last few years. This story involved epic chases, jewels hidden in corsets, edge-of-your-seat fight seats, and a landscape full of political intrigue and power. 

The book also focused heavily on the friendship between Ana and Evgenia, which started out as tenuous but becoming so compelling. I was so happy to read a book with such strong female characters who really grow into themselves. 

My thanks to Netgalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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Sign me up for any Anastasia Romanov retelling!! This retelling was well done. I really enjoyed the friendship between Anna and Evgenia. The book was such an adventure and a very enjoyable read altogether. Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for the opportunity to read this in exchange for a review!
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I really liked this retelling of the classical Anastasia story! Even though Anna is the central character in this novel, I actually found that I bonded more with Evgenia, as she offered a perfect contrast to Anna's character. I liked that we got a character who represented the working class of Russia in this tale, as I often feel like this is missing in other retellings of the classical story. I thought that O'Neil did a great job putting a twist on the story of the Romanovs without overwhelming the readers with too much Russian history.
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Alternate Russian history and I am HERE for it!! Giving me very much scary but bad ass vibes. Anna is a bit too much to begin with but I became more and more fond of her as the story went on. I was intrigued as to what would happen next and, as always, this historical fiction sparked an interest to do some research on the real Russian Revolution.
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This was such a powerful, thought-provoking book! I've always been interested in Anastasia, and the myths surrounding her. So as soon as I saw this book on NetGalley, I knew I had to read it! And Daughters of a Dead Empire did not disappoint!

The characters felt so real that I instantly connected to them. I loved seeing their development and growth throughout the story. They were all unique in their own way, and I could understand what each was thinking. 

Even though this was historical fiction, and I generally knew how things were going to end, I still felt so invested in this book. I loved the integration of history and fiction. It made the story feel that much more real. 

My only complaint was that I felt the ending was a bit rushed. I would have liked a little more time spend tying up loose ends. There was some closure, but I was still left needing a bit more. 

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical fiction. It isn't a happy book--in fact I nearly cried on a few occasions. But it is so well-written and really made me think. 

Thank you to NetGalley and Roaring Brook Press for the chance to read Daughters of a Dead Empire in exchange for an honest review!
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Interesting take on true history - what if Anastasia Romanova escaped? Chapters switch POV between "Anna" and Evgenia, the peasant Bolshevik who helps her.  Fairly nuanced view of monarchy v communism, which is a very complex topic. Would probably spur readers to investigate further into this time period which is what great historical fiction does.  Really enjoyed it.
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I am fascinated by the story of the last Tsar and his family, and was really excited about this book. There were aspects of it that were done quite well-- the trauma that Anastasia must have felt, the relationship between the girls as they wrestled with their ideals and political identities, the nuance in the powers at play during that time period. Unfortunately, though, the book ultimately fell flat for me. While there were interesting moments, it felt like a novel-length story about two girls running in a circle in the woods while being chased.  The end of was not as satisfying as I had hoped. A great premise, it just didn't quite deliver.
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Re-imagining the fate of Anastasia, the daughter of Tsar Nicholas, is the central concept here. For many years there was a belief that the one daughter might have survived the family massacre. In O’Neil’s novel, Anna (Anastasia) escapes and gets help from a young Bolshevik girl named Evgenia who doesn’t know the other girl’s true identity. The two girls are being hunted down by a ruthless Russian military leader who is determined to kill anyone who could reveal the facts about the death of the tsar’s family. 

What is starkly portrayed here is the reality of the Bolshevik revolution and the beliefs of the common Russian people. After years of oppression, the Bolsheviks have a great deal of support for the revolution, but there are still some who are loyal to the tsar and who make up the White Army. Anna learns quickly about the hardships the common Russians contend with just as Evgenia learns about the atrocities of the Bolsheviks. Readers will see that revolutions have tragic costs on both sides.

O’Neil ventures into Russian history with a twist on what might have happened to Anastasia. The action moves swiftly with the girls in constant danger. What the two have is not a normal friendship, born out of similar beliefs. Evgenia is critical of Anna, the child of wealth, and Anna points out the brutality of the revolutionaries. Evgenia’s common decency and humanity are key to her efforts to help the girl she thinks is simply an aristocrat. She really carries the story, despite Anna being the central figure.
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Daughters of a Dead Empire is a sweeping historical friendship story brimming with action, emotion, and humanity. Carolyn Tara O’Neil does an excellent job of exploring all the nuance and complexity of the Russian Revolution without overwhelming the reader—that’s quite an achievement!
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Daughters of a Dead Empire....
Premise of 2 young girls from opposites of the spectrum of wealth and quality of life come together in a unique circumstance....

First of all, I love the IDEA of it was really slow and the character's were written deliberately stubborn headed on some issues half of the book. Storygraph rated this book as fast paced but the character's only went back in forth 3 towns (not even cities far apart from each other) My favorite character was Jiri is all i'm going to say. I do think Anastasia's love for her family was written very well but her interactions with people were horrible most of the time. The whole time i saw this relationship with Anna and Evgenia as a romantic twist waiting to bud to fruition but alas, never happened. It was definitely seemed like it would happen more than a regular friendship. \
Again, loved the idea, didn't like the slow execution. A viewpoint of Anna introducing Evgenia to her family or making more change in part of the book would be a better impact than a short epilogue glossing over the 'after'.
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An alternate history featuring someone we know very well - Anastasia - this tells the story of what might have happened if she had survived. This isn't a new idea, but it's told extremely well and quite realistically, bringing Evgenia in for a perspective from working class Russia.

I really enjoyed the friendship between Anna and Evgenia, I just really really wish the author had simply made it gayer. The connection they had, the time alone hiding in a cave... it would have been so freaking good if it was gayer.

I did think that this story was extremely slow in the middle, and the girls never seemed to travel far, which added to it. Towards the end it got extremely violent, but the ending was both satisfying and believable.
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I thoroughly enjoyed this reimagining of the tale of Anastasia. 
I especially enjoyed the fact that this tale focused on the friendship between Anna and Evgenia and not on a romantic interest. 
The descriptions were well done and I found it very easy to be empathetic towards both girls and their realities. The juxtaposition between Anna's life and Evgenia's was super well done and I really enjoyed the growth and character arcs that both girls went through.
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As Anna escapes the Bolshevik execution of her family, she finds herself in a small town where a young woman, Evgenia, is selling various wares from her traveling wagon, trying to make enough to hire a doctor in Iset for her brother who returned from the war with an amputated leg. Anna makes the mistake of arguing with the people in the village and Evgenia saves her from being burned to death. The two make their way toward Iset only to be set upon by Commander Yurovsky, a member of the Cheka secret police. It’s a race against time as Anna works to keep her identity secret and find her cousin Alexander while Evgenia tries to find aid for her family and keep Anna safe.

For a retelling of Anastasia Romanov’s escape from execution, Carolyn Tara O’Neil took some fun artistic liberties while interweaving various historical facts into the narrative. For example, she utilized Commander Yurovsky’s name, the executioner of the Romanov family. Additionally, Anastasia did have relatives outside of Russia that survived the purge of the royal family. The Cheka secret police was also very much in operation during this time period as they sought to uncover plots as assigned by Lenin or other superiors. Anna’s memories also provide moments from the Romanovs’ imprisonment in the Ipatiev House. From these facts, O’Neil uses this framework as a place to develop the remainder of her story.

Daughters of a Dead Empire was a plot heavy novel. There was a lot of movement in the area surrounding Ekaterinburg as Anna and Evgenia sought to stay one step ahead of the White (tsarist) and Red (Bolshevik) armies and Commander Yurovsky and the Cheka secret police. Much of the character development centered on Anna and Evgenia and was assisted by the fact that chapters alternate between their two points of view. As a reader, I found this structure to be effective as this is a complicated period in Russia’s history and being able to see how each young woman saw themselves fitting into the turmoil was an enlightening and fresh perspective.

A few surrounding characters were provided with some development, including much of Evgenia’s family, particularly Konstantin, and Lieutenant Jiri Valchar. Though not given their own chapters, each character influenced the evolving thinking of Anna and Evgenia. As a reader, I appreciated how each of these characters pushed the protagonists to see how the conflict was not a black and white matter. This felt realistic since most teenagers see their viewpoint as correct; therefore, everyone else must be wrong. But young adulthood also seeks to challenge and complicate this notion. Growing up in a war, it’s not surprising that Anna and Evgenia would learn these lessons sooner and quicker than others.

Of all the characters who were developed, I was disappointed that Commander Yurovsky wasn’t provided with much depth. To a certain degree, he seemed like a cardboard cutout villain who was moved to a location when a plot device was needed to push things forward. Given the way that the conflict between the White and Red armies was handled, I felt like O’Neil could have done more to offer a fuller picture of Yurovsky.

Overall, this was a fast read given the constant push from location to location as Anna and Evgenia sought to find a safe place that was ahead of those hunting them. I found this an enjoyable read that would certainly please fans of alternate histories and the mystique surrounding the Romanov family.
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(I was given an arc of this book through Netgalley in return for an honest review.)
Overall Rating:
Plot: 5/5
Characters: 4/5
Description: 5/5
Dialogue: 3/5

I really liked the plot and the action scenes in this book, it had me on the edge of my seat towards the last 100 pages and I could not put it down. I liked the idea of an Anastasia retelling, however I do wish that I connected with the characters a bit more. I actually ended up liking Evgenia more than Anna, which was a bit surprising to me.
The villain was amazingly written and very terrifying, but it did seem a bit redundant to always have him chasing the girls and then always running. Once Evgenia was caught I became more interested because the plot was switched up from the other half of the book. Overall it was pretty good for a historical fiction retelling and definitely met my expectations for the premise of it.
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Review will post on 3/7/22 on Forever Young Adult blog.

Content Warning: There are semi-detailed depictions of torture (beating, fingernail pulling) and not-super-detailed flashbacks to when Anastasia’s family (which includes children) is shot and killed.

Cover Story: Wallpaper

This is reminding me of those toile-patterned wallpapers or china patterns. There are plenty of variations on this kind of “intricate pattern with homages to the story” cover from the last few years, but, honestly, it’s one of my favorites of the modern YA trends. (I thought the cutesy cartoon covers were fun too when they first started, so I’m sure publishing will ruin this somehow, too.)

The Deal:

*sings* Have you heard? There’s a rumor in St. Petersburg… *sings*

Ahem. Wrong retelling. In this version, we meet up with “Anna” a day after she’s escaped her family’s grisly fate as she seeks to put as much distance as possible between her and the Cheka soldier who killed them. With no money except the jewels sewn into her corset, Anna bargains away a diamond to a passing merchant, Evgenia, for a ride to the nearest train station. Unfortunately, it’s the worst bargain of Evgenia’s life as she, a proud Bolshevik, unwittingly becomes complicit in giving aid to the last-standing royal member of Nikolai Romanov’s line.

Now they’re both on the run, and it seems the only person they can trust is one another. Is it possible to find common ground when you have such diametrically opposing views?

BFF Charm: Big Sister

BFF Charm Big Sister with Clarissa from Clarissa Explains It All's face
Let’s face it, I would be able to do jack-all to help them as their big sister, but I don’t think Anna or Evgenia need one more scared friend tagging along on this twisted tour of backwoods Russia.

O’Neil does a good job of making both Anna and Evgenia well-rounded characters who react pretty realistically to their situations, in that they aren’t kicking ass and taking names and single-handedly fixing an entire revolution; they are just two scared young women who, through luck and circumstance, barely manage to stay one step ahead of a murderous fanatic. They’re going to need some intense therapy and a shoulder to cry on, and I could at least offer one of those things.
Swoonworthy Scale: 0

There is no time for even the mere thought of romance.

Talky Talk: Realistic Slice Of Life

I feel like this was O’Neil’s attempt to answer the question of “how would Anastasia have survived?” in a realistic and serious way. There’s no far-fetched amnesia or girls pretending to be the Dowager’s granddaughter. O’Neil drops us in the middle of the worst moment of Anna’s life and we see it through to its conclusion, but we don’t know what is in store for the characters or the country beyond that.

It was also a nice character study on how two people on opposite sides of a polarizing issue could come to understand and respect each other, but, of course, that is only possible when those in question are willing to use common sense, care about all people’s rights, and are willing to compromise within their personal beliefs to find a better way for everyone. So perhaps this WAS a fantasy after all.
Bonus Factor: Retellings

Maria and Tony from West Side Story singing on a balcony.
I blame the catchy music and a Meg Ryan / John Cusack power duo as the reason so many of us grew up hoping the real-life tragedy of Anastasia Romanova had a happier ending than what came to pass—although, perhaps wishing for a young girl to have survived an assassination attempt and have to live with the fact that she saw her entire family murdered is not exactly a happy ending… We humans do love a messy drama with a side of the macabre, and it’s clear something about this haunting story has continually struck a chord in us.

Bonus Factor: Friendships

Characters from Baby-Sitters' Club show sitting on a bed talking and laughing.
Evgenia and Anna form an intense bond because of their shared experiences. Evgenia’s life has been constantly affected by Anna—first as a peasant living under Tsar Nikolai’s rule and then in many, many ways throughout this novel all thanks to her initial pity for Anna’s sorry state. She could easily hate Anna and often does find her off-putting because of their extreme class differences and upbringings. But the girls find something familiar in each other in spite of their conflicts, and it always gives me the warm fuzzies watching people be the best versions of themselves for someone else.

Anti-Bonus Factor: Politics

Roll of "I voted" stickers with American flag design
Politics, war, huh, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing but heartbreak, y’all! The Bolsheviks were some real assholes. Not that Anastasia’s father was any better, keeping the people of his land ignorant and poor, but the Bolsheviks came in and bulldozed the more moderate people who ended the tsar’s reign and, well, we all know about Lenin. Why do the “less evil guys” have to be so incredibly ineffectual all the time? Is there not one controversial topic out there we can get a win on? *climbs off soapbox*

Relationship Status: Running Partners

Guess we should’ve trained better before that marathon, eh, Book? You had me emotionally and physically drained after everything we went through together. I could use a nap, an emotional support animal, and some good chocolate. I hope you get the same!

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my free review copy from Roaring Brook Press. I received neither money nor peanut butter cups in exchange for this review. Daughters of a Dead Empire is available now.
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This was a 3.5 rounded up for me. 

Like all Millennial women, I too am obsessed with Anastasia which is why I picked this book up even though it's definitely outside of my reading comfort zone. That being said, I did enjoy this book. The action was great and was paced out well to keep me wondering what was going to happen next. I love the friendship between Anna and Evgenia, and it was clearly very well researched (we love a fiction book with a bibliography!). 

I can't articulate what wasn't prefect for me, but I think it's just a genre preference. If you like historical fiction, war, action stories I would recommend picking this one up. There is a fair amount of violence and gore.
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4.5/5 stars, this was a really interesting retelling! 

There were some really amazing aspects in this book, and it was a wonderfully done retelling of the Romanovs and their daughter Anastatia. I really love learning about the last Tsar and his family, and it was something that I chose as an individual project in school. Ever since then I have been really obsessed with their time period, and learning about what they really went through. So when I came across this retelling, where Anastatia was alive and on the run, I knew I had to read it. 

Obviously, this plot centers around the last Tsar and his family, but it specifically features Anastatia on the run after her family was killed. She is forced to hide and buy her way across the country, with the jewels that she stored in her corset and ultimately saved her life. From the very first page, there was a sense of urgency about the story, which reflected nicely from the events that were transpiring. I think overall the plot only lulled once or twice and kept me on my toes. I loved seeing Russia and the countries around it during this time period too, as it's really interesting to see the divides between people, especially in our present world's state.  

Anastatia or "Anna" was officially painted as the main character, though Evgenia also had a lot of scenes. She had been through so much by the time the story started that she had a habit of making risky decisions, but she still showed compassion for others over time. In the beginning, she was very set in her ways and would not change. But as she was on the run, she began to see what the peasants had gone through and empathized with them. I really enjoyed seeing her develop as a character in this was, and ultimately do her best to help everyone. 

Evgenia was a really interesting and well-developed character. She comes from a peasant position and constantly berates Anna for her views, as she came from money. It's not until later that she finds out that Anna is part of the royal family, and she becomes really conflicted about that. Her first instinct was always to do things that would help and protect her family, but over time that began to extend to Anna. Evgenia is a really badass and stubborn individual, she is willing to do anything to achieve her goals and it was really admirable. Even when she was tortured in the story, she did her best to stay true to herself and not give secrets away. 

The female friendship in this book was one of my favorite parts, even if originally they hated one another. It was enemies to tolerating one another to good friends. I enjoyed how their growth together felt very realistic, and it was not instantaneous. There were times they worked really well together, and other times that they almost hated one another. It was never cut and dry because of both of their backgrounds, but they learned to help one another in many ways. I think they also taught each other many important lessons and it was great to see a friendship that didn't have to be romantic in the end.

Overall, this was a really fantastic story if not just a tad bit long in my opinion. I really loved the retelling aspect and how some parts held up to actual history. The female friendship between the two main characters was lovely as well and just, everything was really fun! This is a great way to read a new sort of retelling while still playing it safe if you want to dip your toes in that genre. 

[TW: torture (with fire), death of family members, being shot, blood and gore, soiling self, dealing with trauma, assault, intense torture (on page), abuse, PTSD]
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