The Romanov Prophecy, Steve Berry. ISBN 978-0345504395 (0345506960). New York: Ballantine Books, 2005. Also available as a hardback (ISBN 978-0345460059 or 0345460057) and audio book (ISBN 978-0739320853 or 0739320858).
An American lawyer named Miles Lord is part of a Russian commission designed to locate a descendant of Tsar Nicholas II. The commission had a man in mind, but Lord’s research turns up an actual direct lineal descendant of the late Tsar. Lord is targeted for execution because the power behind the commission, an agglomeration of individuals representing the (Russian) bureaucracy, the (Russian) military, the (Russian) mafia, and (Russian) general business interests doesn’t want a real Tsarist descendant but someone they can manipulate.
As Lord uncovers more and more information in the course of his research and work to support the commission, he encounters numerous hard, dangerous individuals. One of those pieces of information is a prophecy Rasputin supposedly said/made, and tracks through Rasputin’s murder plot to protect the actual Tsarist line. Lord is chased across Russia and then into the United States where his research trail led him. He finds what he seeks in the United States, and more suspense-filled adventures ensue.
The book is mildly interesting and entertaining, but it’s not interesting enough for me: the story is simply not engaging and the characters not that interesting or complex enough to maintain through 400+ pages of text. Even though this is fiction and one is supposed to suspend disbelief for a while, I nonetheless did not find the actions of any of the characters particularly plausible or believable, nor was the story line itself.
Additionally, as this is a fictional work with a supposed historical underpinning, sufficient history should be given to let readers know something of the background of the real, historical characters. Simply put, the Tsar was not a nice man. He did much to promote bigotry against ethnic and religious minorities and oppressed those not of his class generally. Much of the horrific history of the Tsar and his minions is glossed over or not mentioned at all except in the author’s notes and interview at the end. I understand the need to omit those things, as they are not central to the plot, but to ignore them and portray the Tsar and his family simply as victims, kind, gentle, and without guile is a major failing.
The book has numerous historical asides and those are well flagged, with dates and locations. Those asides are printed in italics which makes reading them tiring, especially when the section is longer than a page or so. I’m not sure whose idea it was to have those parts in italics, but that person made a major mistake. It is really hard on the reader.
I have another of Berry’s books to read, but will put that off until/unless I can’t find anything else available. However, at this point, I won’t seek out more of his work because I did not like the characters, the historical glosses, or the writing style in this book. You can skip this one.