One of the greatest mysteries of the 20th century involves the Russian Grand Duchess Anastasia Romanov. In 1917, at the height of the Bolshevik Revolution, Anastasia and her entire family --- including the Tsar, Tsarina and all her sisters --- were murdered by Bolshevik secret police.
Legend continues to surround this piece of Russian history that Anastasia may have escaped execution. Her body was placed in a mass grave with many others; years later, upon exhumation, it was proven that at least one of the Romanov girls was not among these bodies. Rumors included a pact between the Romanov family and the infamous "Mad Monk," Grigori Rasputin, who was reviled by all of Russia but beloved by the Romanovs. Another legend claims that Rasputin may have been immortal as several attempts were made on his life and he apparently escaped unscathed each time.
"Robert Masello has created a fun and engaging historical thriller that deftly combines speculative fiction regarding the Romanov legend and allows it to collide with modern science in a story that will allow readers to suspend disbelief and strap in for a wild ride."
Robert Masello now steps in as one in a long line of authors who are attempting to fictionalize another “what if” scenario surrounding Anastasia and her relationship with Rasputin. Even though DNA tests in 2009 verified that all four of the Romanov children were murdered with none escaping, it still makes the basis for interesting speculative fiction to create a more exciting end to the Romanov saga.
THE ROMANOV CROSS poses the scenario that Anastasia escaped from Russia and traveled by boat to the fictional St. Peter’s Island off the coast of Alaska. On this island she comes upon a hidden colony led by a Catholic priest. There is a church as well as several abodes where the residents live. What makes these citizens unique is that they are living in the year 1918 and all victims of the Spanish influenza that wiped out millions across the globe. However, Anastasia may possess in her blood a built-in remedy and resistance to this lethal epidemic --- one that was transmitted to her by none other than Rasputin himself.
Now, in modern times, an army epidemiologist named Frank Slater is facing court-martial. Just before his sentence is passed, he is pulled out of the court and given an assignment. His days in the military will be over, but he can avoid jail time by leading an expedition to Alaska. He takes along a hand-picked team of experts and is sent to the town of Port Orlov, Alaska, where he must rendezvous with the local mayor, herself a native Inuit, and head out to the desolate St. Peter’s Island. It is here where the team is tasked with exhuming the bodies of the long-dead members of the decimated colony from 1918. It is with these corpses that the team must test to validate that the Spanish flu bug is dead and not merely dormant with the chance of reawakening and causing a mass epidemic upon the modern world.
Slater and his team go to work but are thwarted by a band of crab fishermen now attempting to be treasure hunters who want the same bodies --- but not for scientific purposes. They have heard of priceless jewels and other riches buried with the bodies and see the opportunity to play fortune hunter. One of these treasures is an emerald-encrusted cross that may have belonged to Anastasia. Who then is the ancient woman garbed in black who also inhabits the island and has the ability to bring death by her own touch? Local tales infer that this ancient guardian of St. Peter’s Island may be Anastasia herself.
Robert Masello has created a fun and engaging historical thriller that deftly combines speculative fiction regarding the Romanov legend and allows it to collide with modern science in a story that will allow readers to suspend disbelief and strap in for a wild ride. It is intelligent, alternative fiction like THE ROMANOV CROSS that makes this one of the most well-read and popular genres today.
Reviewed by Ray Palen on March 29, 2013