I’ve been waiting SO long for the day when I could share my review of the wonderful The Lost Daughter by Gill Paul – and at long last, that day has come! Published by Headline Review on 18th October, and available for kindle (only 99p at the moment, for a limited time), in paperback and as an audiobook – and, like every other book I’ve read by this wonderful author, I’d urge you to read it. I had the privilege of being a (very) early reader – my thanks to the author and publisher for my advance paperback copy, and for the e-copy to make my reading easier – but the emotions it aroused and its sweeping and engrossing story remain vividly etched in my memory…
A Russian princess. An extraordinary sacrifice. A captivating secret…
From the author of The Secret Wife, a gripping journey through decades and across continents, of love, devastating loss and courage against all odds.
1918 … With the country they once ruled turned against them, the future of Russia’s imperial family hangs in the balance. When middle daughter Maria Romanova captivates two of the guards, it will lead to a fateful choice between right and wrong.
Fifty-five years later… Val rushes to her father’s side when she hears of his troubling end-of-life confession: ‘I didn’t want to kill her.’ As she unravels the secrets behind her mother’s disappearance when she was twelve years old, she finds herself caught up in one of the world’s greatest mysteries.
I am in complete awe of the way the author takes a well known piece of history, researches and presents it with meticulous detail, mixes in a few “what ifs”, and builds an enthralling story that entirely captures your heart.
I’ve long had a personal fascination with the tragic story of the Romanovs, and the early part of this book takes you behind the scenes, into the heart of the family and their entourage, as the moment we all dread and know is coming inexorably approaches. The book’s focus is on Maria, the middle child, the warmth of her personality drawing your eye from outset, while the author paints a vivid picture of the family’s life in confinement. What follows is a flight of the most extraordinary imagination, grounded in a period of history so vividly described that the reader can’t help living through and feeling every moment.
The author’s descriptions of the reality and human impact of the siege of Leningrad broke my heart, but the book is full of events from Russian political and social history that would satisfy the most exacting historian. It’s also an exceptional love story, so powerful that you feel it as strongly as its wonderfully drawn characters – and a gripping and powerful account filled with strength, a passion for survival, endurance, and hope. I mentioned when reviewing The Secret Wife that my perfect read needs to have characters I can believe in, whose emotions make me ache as they do, whose anguish and sadness moves me tears – and this book is, by my standards, thoroughly perfect.
I very briefly worried about the modern thread, as the story moved to Australia in the 70s – but Gill Paul is a consummate story teller, and seamlessly weaves and blends the two stories and timelines together. I very quickly became equally engrossed in the story of Val, her Russian emigre father and Chinese mother, her abusive marriage, and the central mystery – full of small and significant secrets and discoveries – that gently pulls the book’s two threads together.
The book’s construction is incredibly clever, its narrative inspired, the writing fluid and engaging, and the whole book one that I struggled to set aside or to get out of my thoughts when I wasn’t reading. It moved me deeply, engaged my every emotion, and made the everyday world disappear – you really can’t ask more than that, can you? One of my books of the year.
About the author
Gill Paul is an author of historical fiction, specialising in relatively recent history. Her last novel, Another Woman’s Husband, was about links you might not have been aware of between Wallis, Duchess of Windsor, and Diana, Princess of Wales (you can read my review here). Gill’s other novels include The Secret Wife, published in 2016, about the romance between cavalry officer Dmitri Malama and Grand Duchess Tatiana, the second daughter of Russia’s last tsar, who first met in 1914 (you’ll find my review here). Women and Children First is about a young steward who works on the Titanic. The Affair was set in Rome in 1961–62 as Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton fell in love while making Cleopatra. And No Place for a Lady is about two Victorian sisters who travel out to the Crimean War of 1854–56 and face challenges beyond anything they could have imagined.
Gill also writes historical non-fiction, including A History of Medicine in 50 Objects, and a series of Love Stories, each containing fourteen tales of real-life couples: how they met, why they fell for each other, and what happened in the end. Published around the world, this series includes Royal Love Stories, World War I Love Stories and Titanic Love Stories.
Gill was born in Glasgow and grew up there, apart from an eventful year at school in the US when she was ten. She studied Medicine at Glasgow University, then English Literature and History (she was a student for a long time), before moving to London to work in publishing. She started her own company producing books for publishers, along the way editing such luminaries as Griff Rhys Jones, John Suchet, John Julius Norwich, Ray Mears and Eartha Kitt. She also writes on health, nutrition and relationships.
Gill swims year-round in an open-air pond – “It’s good for you so long as it doesn’t kill you”– and is a devotee of Pilates. She also particularly enjoys travelling on what she calls “research trips” and attempting to match-make for friends.