Book review: “The Secret Wife” by Gill Paul

by Rebecca Henderson Palmer on September 11, 2017

In 1914, Russia is thrown into WWI, a conflict it is poorly prepared to handle. It is in a military hospital that wounded soldier Dmitri Malama meets “Nurse Romanova II” (aka Grand Duchess Tatiana) and their love affair begins. They marry in secret, and Dmitri does all he can to return to his bride despite colossal defeats on the battlefields. Starvation, illness, and enormous human loss take a toll on the Russian people who eventually turn against their Czar and his family. The government, taken over by the Bolsheviks, imprison the family and eventually execute the entire family, children, pets, and servants. Dmitri struggles, in vain, to protect and save them. When the war ends, he searches fruitlessly for any sign that his wife may still be alive. Eventually he goes on to love another, have children, and become a writer who suffers many setbacks but always pines for his lost love.

In England in 2016, a woman named Kitty finds evidence of her husband’s infidelity on his phone. She flees for Lake Akenabi, NY, to a cabin gifted to her by a great-grandfather she never knew. There she finds evidence of her great-grandfather’s improbable love affair with Grand Duchess Tatiana and begins to better understand the legacy he left her.

I should say off the bat that this is a work that requires a great suspension of disbelief. If you like fantasy or don’t want your historical fiction to be overly influenced by the historical or scientific record, then this book will work for you. Aside from that, the narrative greatly flags when the Romanovs are murdered in the basement of the Ipatiev House in July 1918. Dmitri must carry the narrative for quite awhile before the terribly predictable and most improbable climatic event finally occurs, and that is far too long for a one dimensional character to keep a reader engaged. Once that predictable event occurs, you still have a lot of book to go. So, you lose interest in the characters and fail to understand why things keep struggling along.

I listened to the Audible version and if the two narrators’ American accents don’t make you absolutely cringe (American accents are not restricted to just Brooklyn and the deep south, dear Brits; seriously, some of the worst I’ve ever heard), the “OMG, I have an alcoholic in my family. That means I have the gene for alcoholism” and other similar pieces of dialogue will. I wanted to like this one. I really did. I am fascinated by the Romanovs and that period of history. But this book just crashed – the characters are too simply drawn, the coincidences are too numerous, and the dialogue (both Dmitri and Kitty’s) flounders. Great idea but the execution won’t win you over.

Amazon link is here.

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