by Joy Preble
Publisher: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
Reading level: YA
Book type: prose novel
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…
(synopsis from Goodreads)
I wasn't quite sure what to expect from this book, as I hadn't read many reviews of it, and I wasn't sure what the plot was about (other than the Romanov family, which is something that will catch my attention every time).
The story gets going quickly, so I thought I was in for an interesting read. Unfortunately, the momentum fizzled and died. I think that may have been because, ultimately, the plot was a little thin. The basic premise is that Anastasia Romanov didn't die back in 1918; she was rescued by Baba Yaga, a witch from Russian folklore, and has been living in her magical hut ever since. In the present, this "wicked hot" immortal guy named Ethan searches out Anne, a teenager living in Chicago, because she's the only one who can free Anastasia.
It's not bad as far as plots go, but it's pretty basic. After finishing the book, I feel like I missed a lot of the story. There could have been so much more included. Instead, we're treated to never-ending descriptions of Ethan's blue eyes. I'm not kidding. Pretty much every time Anne is narrating (the book switches between three points of view: Anne's, Ethan's, and Anastasia's), she has to mention Ethan's blue eyes. They're blue. They're very blue. They're ridiculously blue. Sometimes they're sky blue. Once, they're dark blue. They shimmer. They make Anne dizzy, they're so blue. After the first ten or so times, I wanted to shout, "His eyes are blue. We get it!" I thought for sure that his eye colour would somehow be relevant to the plot, since such a big deal was made about it. But no such luck. (I used the search feature on Amazon.com and found 32 references to blue eyes. Talk about overkill.)
The characterizations were mediocre. I thought Anne might turn out to be interesting; after all, she was given a hobby (ballet), which means she's already ahead of many other YA heroines. Unfortunately, the ballet was never really part of the plot. Ethan was promising, too, but he ultimately ended up being little more than a collection of character traits (blue eyes, shaggy brown hair, long fingers, smoker). The villains were underutilized, and I never really understood why they did what they did. Yes, the author explains it, but I didn't quite buy that explanation. Anastasia may have been the most interesting character in the whole book, but we don't get to see her in action until the end... and at that point, she becomes just as bland as the rest of them. Her letters to her family (which are interspersed throughout the rest of the text) are probably the best thing about the whole book. They helped build a character much better than the rest of the narration managed to do.
This is one of those YA romances with a supernatural, very old male lusting after a teenage girl. To the author's credit, she actually had Anne questioning this dynamic. Anne mentioned Ethan's maturity numerous times, even noting that having a relationship with him would be like dating her grandfather (or something to that effect). For some reason that's never really explained, Anne's trepidation disappears and this becomes a non-issue. I recall someone online once saying something to the effect of, "It doesn't matter how young you look... it's how many times you've been around the sun." In this case, when Anne is marveling at Ethan's ability to talk to her parents as an equal because he's just so darn mature, I would have hoped this would have given her a little more pause. Unfortunately, it seems that blue eyes win out over common sense.
The ending was disappointing, to say the least. I'm not someone who has to have a happy ending all the time. But I think an ending should have an impact. In this case, the ending was more like a lit firework that ended up being a dud. It flamed and fizzled... and ultimately went out. I was left wondering what the point of the whole story had been. The main character (which I assume was Anne) didn't really learn much. She was supposed to be the character who resolved the conflict, but, in the end, that job fell to someone else.
I did like the inclusion of the fairytale elements. I have only come across Baba Yaga once before (that I can recall) in fantasy literature that wasn't an actual folk tale. That book was Orson Scott Card's Enchantment, and Baba Yaga was used much more effectively in that story. Another thing I sort of liked in Dreaming Anastasia was the magic... but unfortunately, it reminded me of the "manifesting" stuff in Evermore. At least in this case it was considered actual magic; I just wish there had been more of it.
As for the writing... Well, I wasn't crazy about the whole style of the book. Three narrators just seemed like too many. I don't like present-tense narration, either. There were a few typos, but there were also a few mistakes that really bothered me. One was concerning genealogy. When trying to calculate the relationship between two people, there were two variations at different places in the story... resulting in either a great-great-granddaughter or a great-great-great-granddaughter. (Genealogy is a hobby of mine, so this kind of thing really irks me.) Another mistake was when Baba Yaga goes flying through the air and Anne says she's riding in a mortar. The exchange that follows makes it clear that Anne had no idea what a mortar was until Ethan explained it, even though she used the word. (This is one of the pitfalls of present-tense narration: your character is learning in real time, so slip-ups like this become more apparent.) Then there's the whole issue of whether or not Ethan will now set off metal detectors at the airport. Unless immortal bodies can dissolve bullets, he's carrying around quite a bit of metal. Is this not an issue? Or was it missed by the editor? The other mistake I noticed was in Anastasia's eye colour. On page 291, her eyes are said to be blue -- even bluer than Ethan's. But four pages later, her eyes are brown! I was pretty surprised at this mistake; surely someone who's as obsessed with eye colour as this author seems to be could keep the characters' eye colours straight.
All in all, it was an interesting diversion, but nothing I would want to read again or recommend to others. The ending was so ambiguous, that I'm left wondering if there will be a sequel. But this book didn't capture my attention enough to make me want to read any more about these characters.
Overall: 2.6 out of 5