I devoured this book. I've been on a total War of the Roses kick and Dan Jones's non-fiction offering was my latest obsession. As in, "leave me alone I'm reading" kind of obsession.
I'm usually not a fan of non-fiction books because, much as I want to love them, most of the ones I've tried to read have been long and rambly and boring and totally lacking all the excitement and character development I crave.
And, true, The Wars of the Roses didn't really have stellar character development. Most of the people are distantly described. I got a great idea of WHAT they did, I got a decent idea of WHY they did what they did, but I didn't get much information about how they FELT about it all. Doubly so when it comes to the ladies of the book.
But, after reading The Queen of Last Hopes, The Forbidden Queen, The Tudor Rose, and watching The White Queen, I had enough character development in my head to fill in the blanks here.
The real strength of The Wars of the Roses is the rip roaring plot. It starts with a bang and just does not let up. Which is pretty easy considering the subject matter is pretty much non-stop war, political intrigue, scheming, marriages, battles, switching alliances, and gory death.
A lot of non-fiction books fall into the habit of digressions, and while they do often contain interesting information, the tendency to wander like that is one of the big reasons I'm turned off from a lot of non-fiction books. It makes them feel so rambly and long (and therefore boring even when they shouldn't be).
Dan Jones does not wander. Not once. He relentlessly drives straight through events, hitting all the high points and never wavering off course. The result is a straight forward account of this time period that makes it really easy to follow all the schemes and events.
That also made it near impossible for me to put it down. I was SO engrossed in what was going on, who was going to die next and who was going to wear the crown (even though, by this point in my historical fiction reading, I already knew all the answers).
If you're looking for a clear accounting or primer of the Wars of the Roses, this is the book for you. Dan Jones does a fantastic job laying out events and key players in a way that is easy to follow and utterly engrossing. Having all the events laid out in one, clear narrative really helped tie together all the fictionalized stories I've read (I had a few Ah-HA moments as I connected the characters and events referenced in the different fiction books).
I will for sure check out Dan Jones's first book in this duology (The Plantagenets), though I think I'm going to try to read some historical fiction accounts of those characters first so I can again have a clearly developed picture of the personalities of the key players.
I'm a big fan of historical fiction, but one of my biggest pet peeves is when historical fiction authors make stuff uOriginally posted at Small Review
I'm a big fan of historical fiction, but one of my biggest pet peeves is when historical fiction authors make stuff up.
I know, I know, it's fiction, but I still can't stand it.
So I set an especially high bar for a NON-fiction book like The Family Romanov being, you know, historically accurate.
So what do you get with The Family Romanov?
On the positive side, there's the short chapters, easy-breezy writing, and engaging narrative. This book is so very easy to read. I adore the structure of tiny sub-chapters with big descriptive headings (makes it SO easy to say "just one more") and I flew through 68 pages in about a half hour, which is amazing for me because I am a slooooow reader.
Then again, the writing style is also almost offensively dumbed down. I get it, this book is aimed at kids, but last I checked kids are not morons. Even books that are undoubtedly Made For Kids like the Royal Diaries series aren't written with the condescending pat on the head tone used in The Family Romanov.
There's also a surprising lack of historical detail. Sure there's talk about events (kinda, sorta, mostly glossed over), and there's of course a lot of focus on the Romanov family (a little, shallowly), but there's very little to actually make me feel like I'm living in that time period and knowing any of the people. It's all very thinly described, and, again, I know it's aimed at kids, but, again, Kristiana Gregory didn't let that stop her.
And then there's the bias. Historical fiction for sure comes with bias because they're usually written as first person narratives. Non-fiction, on the other hand, is supposed to provide a more objective, unemotional recounting of Facts.
Non-fiction books like The Family Romanov, which covers both the royal family and the citizens of Russia, are supposed to be the ultimate in providing facts and perspectives from all sides of a situation.
"Supposed to" being the key words there. The majority of historical fiction books I've read, including all those very emotional first person narratives, have more of an unbiased approach than The Family Romanov.
Combine the heavy bias with the "children must be imbeciles" approach and The Family Romanov reads like one big bash fest on the Baddies and love fest for the pure, innocent Goodies. Anyone even remotely familiar with the Russian Revolution knows that's not quite the case and there's a lot more depth to the conflict than a simplistic Good Guys versus Bad Guys.
Which brings me to the next travesty: historical inaccuracy.
Yes, you read that right.
The oversimplification and heavy bias resulted in a narrative that left out huge, gigantic, very important pieces of information, which totally skews a reader's understanding of the time (even things as basic as fleas!). Now, technically, what's written isn't false, but it's pretty much like lying by omission.
Readers hoping to use The Family Romanov as their first substantive look into the Russian Revolution (you know, the targeted audience for this book) will come away with a really warped, inaccurate, and swiss-cheesy interpretation of events.
Last year I reviewed the first book Palace of Spies and thought it was good, but missing something. I hate to say it, but things have not improved in Dangerous Deceptions.
In the broad strokes, everything is pretty promising: interesting historical setting (in the court of George I), a cadre of ladies in waiting, puppies, court intrigue, deception, and spies.
And yet, it all falls flat. Main character Peggy isn't quite dislikable, but she isn't my favorite person in the world (though her attitude toward the dogs was pretty off-putting). Her romantic interest is a dreaded artist (I rarely ever swoon for artists) and he's a pretty bland one at that.
The mystery bored me and I had to try really hard to care about anything (although I liked that card game scene, even if it didn't entirely make sense). Even the moments of peril and big reveals failed to grab my interest.
So why did I read to the end? And why would I read another sequel (because I probably would)? Oh, I don't know! There's something about this series that does interest me. I can't for the life of me identify what it is, but for some reason I actually do like reading these books. Maybe it's the setting or some of the side characters or the easy writing or the general premise. I don't know!
ARC from the publisher, via NetGalley Rating: 3 out of 5