Reviewed by Jennifer Jensen
Ever since my teenage years and the release of the Fox animated feature film Anastasia, I have had a strong interest in the fall of the Romanov dynasty. When I learned about Kathryn Harrison’s Enchantments, which blends fantasy and fiction involving young prince Alexei (called Alyosha) and Rasputin’s daughter Masha, I couldn’t wait to hold a copy of it in my hands. Once I started reading the book, however, my excitement quickly evaporated.
Enchantments takes place after the death of Grigory Rasputin, the Mad Monk. Rasputin’s daughters, Masha and Varya, become wards of the Romanov family. While the Romanovs are under house arrest by the Bolsheviks, Masha and the young hemophiliac prince become close, telling stories of their families to one another while they patiently wait for murder to claim them.
The bulk of Masha’s stories are recollections of Rasputin, which I actually found disappointing. I was drawn to this novel because I was curious about Rasputin’s daughter and her relationship with the Romanovs. I was expecting that there would be quite the tension between them, given that Rasputin is often blamed for why their reign ended. Disappointingly, there are few interactions between Masha and the tsar and his wife. Alexandra has maybe one scene with Masha, and I found it fascinating. I was extremely disappointed that she didn’t return, but that we only learned more of her from Alyosha’s stories.
Aside from finding this a tedious and boring book, I was disgusted by some very descriptive sexual situations that occurred between Masha and Alyosha. There was almost four years’ difference in their ages; Masha is eighteen during their captivity, and Alyosha is thirteen going on fourteen. I wish Kathryn Harrison had just kept them as platonic friends rather than introducing a disturbing romantic element to her tale.
Enchantments was a less than enchanting read for me, though I respect that many will disagree with my assessment of this story. If I should ever find myself wanting to read about the Romanovs again, I think I will tackle a well researched non-fiction book rather than looking to fictional titles to gain further insight.
Jennifer graduated from the University of Utah with a BA in English. She occasionally dabbles with her own fiction writing, particularly with the Young Adult and Paranormal genres. She currently resides in Utah with her husband and daughter.
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