Russia, 1915: Sixteen year old farmer's son Georgy Jachmenev steps in front of an assassin's bullet intended for a senior member of the Russian Imperial Family and is instantly proclaimed a hero. Rewarded with the position of bodyguard to Alexei Romanov, the only son of Tsar Nicholas II, the course of his life is changed for ever.
Privy to the secrets of Nicholas and Alexandra, the machinations of Rasputin and the events which will lead to the final collapse of the autocracy, Georgy is both a witness and participant in a drama that will echo down the century.
Sixty-five years later, visiting his wife Zoya as she lies in a London hospital, memories of the life they have lived together flood his mind. And with them, the consequences of the brutal fate of the Romanovs which has hung like a shroud over every aspect of their marriage...
Boyne reworks perennial rumors that Anastasia, the youngest daughter of Russia's last czar, escaped the Bolshevik firing squad that killed her family, in an overstuffed romantic novel elevated by the author's prose gifts but fatally lacking in credibility. Early chapters involving narrator Georgy Daniilovich Jachmenev's boyhood in a tiny Russian village are convincing, but when he's unexpectedly chosen as a companion for the imperial heir, Alexei, the plot veers into highly improbable territory. On Georgy's first day in St. Petersburg, he locks eyes with the 15-year-old Anastasia, feeling an immediate connection to her; glimpses Alexandra, the czar's wife, privately conferring with her evil mentor, Rasputin; and enjoys an intimate chat with Nicholas II himself, who chooses to tell an uneducated 16-year-old country boy about his heavy responsibilities. These flashbacks alternate with Georgy's life in London, where he and his wife, Zoya, have lived for two decades after fleeing the Russian Revolution. Readers who know little about Russian history may find this novel suspenseful, but others will be better off with Boyne's 2012 novel, The Absolutist, which sustains a taut, unsentimental plot without the romantic excess that mars this effort.