The Diamond Secret

I’ve always liked fairy tales for their timeless quality, their role in a collective mythology perpetuating the morals of “happily ever after.” They give us themes and archetypes to be woven into other creative endeavors, everything from wicked stepparents to Cinderella transformations.

Years ago I read a few volumes in the SimonPulse Once Upon A Time series and was impressed with the offerings. These volumes take familiar tales and retell them with a new twist, often by providing some sort of historical context. For example, Spirited plays off Beauty and the Beast with a girl captured by Native Americans, and Scarlet Moon has a strange wolf pack beleaguering a village during the Crusades.

image from Simon and Schuster

I saw The Diamond Secret on a cart at the library and had to check it out, at least for old times sake. This volume is a “retelling” of Anastasia, in which a lonely amnesiac tavern maid named Nadya is pegged by schemers Ivan and Sergei as a look-alike for the Grand Duchess. After life in a mental asylum all she wants is a chance to be loved and accepted by others, but aristocracy may not be the key to everything she desires.

To me, the story of Anastasia is similar to that of the Titanic, tragic yet fascinating. I can’t help but feel sorry for the Russian royal family, and can understand the hope that such devastation might not have been complete. I’ve seen both the Fox animated version (a favorite) and the one with Ingrid Bergman.

To be honest, it feels kind of cheap to have a strict “retelling” of a historical event. Suzanne Weyn stays in 1918 Russia, so that anyone with a passing knowledge of the animated movie has a pretty good idea of the book’s whole plot. She has added a few interesting elements of her own, though, and is a little more historically accurate. The biggest strength for me was that Ivan and Sergei are fully fleshed-out characters with motive and backstory.

Ms. Weyn also slightly expands on the idea of wealth vs. worker that played such a large role in the Revolution. I would have liked to see more, but I guess that’s probably not the focus in a young adult book. Other interesting ideas mentioned and dropped too soon were the politial impact that restoring a princess could have, and what it would be like to finally remember a family but know that they are dead.

The romance felt somewhat unbelievable and rushed, especially from Nadya’s side..  Once Ivan claimed to have known her before, she was immediately chummy and playful, with true love not far behind. Again, I should know what to expect from YA, but a little part of me still cringed. The villain conflict was somewhat underwhelming as well and disappointing in its resolution (though what can compare favorably with Fox’s undead Rasputin?)

The Diamond Secret was an enjoyable way to spend a few hours, and a reminder of why I love Anastasia. On the other hand, it doesn’t bode well for the future of the series if they’re reduced to relying on animated films. One of the other recent titles is apparently a Mulan retelling; I suppose Pocahontas is next?

Published in: on August 25, 2010 at 12:53 am  Comments (1)  
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  1. […] lower-class character pegged as secret aristocracy because of some innate characteristic (e.g. The Diamond Secret). While this sometimes seems implausible I completely believe it about Emma. Despite growing up as […]

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