It doesn’t happen often, but today I am really pissed off.

Last week, we spoke at some length about bending the ‘truth’ in historical fiction. I believe we reached a sort of consensus that if an historical author messes with known facts then they should say so in the foreword or afterword. I totally agree with this.


yes but whodunnit?

But there was also quite a bit of discussion about the nature of historical truth; for example, sometimes we know what happened – someone murdered the princes in the tower, for example – but we can’t be sure who. Or historical record tells us what people did, it doesn’t tell us why.

Most pertinently, a person’s character is purely subjective; whether they are an historical identity, or one of our own friends.

Our ‘life of the party’ can be an overbearing boor to someone else; we may find someone quiet and dull, while another may discover unimagined depths. It’s not fact; it’s just point of view.

This is basic human nature, something that seems utterly lost on certain Amazon reviewers.

I have a novella I recently published online called The House of Special Purpose. It’s theThe House of Special Purpose prequel to my novel ANASTASIA, and it’s so thoroughly researched that I was a bit wary of even posting it as fiction.

Yet a reviewer recently one-starred the book for its poor research. Whoah. Back up the truck!

Why? She said I had painted the four princesses as spoiled and arrogant when the reviewer pointed out they ate bread and butter for breakfast and slept in camp beds.

There are so many things wrong with this statement I just don’t know where to begin.

Numero uno: I only characterised Anastasia as spoiled and arrogant. And think a moment; eating bread and butter and sleeping in camp beds is actually bizarre behaviour for a royal family who holidays regularly on a 55000 ton private yacht, and whose children have wigwams in their private playroom and wear real jewels.

Alexei's playroom, The Winter Palace

Look carefully, there’s got to be a camp bed in there somewhere

They were curious people. Czar Nicholas was present at one of the deadliest battles in the first world war; his men were dying all around him in their thousands every day and the main topic of his personal diaries was the weather.

Now don’t you think it’s fair to extrapolate from this information that this might not be a completely functional family? That perhaps these girls might not be the lost and romantic princesses we’d probably like them to be?

My reviewer called Anastasia just a ‘fllibberty-gibbet’ (sic); in my reading of the material she was a precocious little bitch. 

Standart, royal yacht, Romanovs

the family runabout – a boat of the people

I might be wrong. That’s why I called this fiction. But I didn’t come to this conclusion out of thin air. I reasoned it out and I think it’s fair to take that point of view historically; certainly many of her contemporaries – some of them close relatives – disliked her intensely.

And she was, after all, a teenager.

Now I never ever respond to reviews. If you review – and there are so many really good reviewers out there, most of them have blogs – please feel free to take me to task for my technique or my biographical and historical knowledge, if you see that it’s lacking. Just don’t impugn my work ethic or my intelligence.

When someone accuses me of being lazy, when I have to do so much reading for every book (the task that I enjoy the least) then you’d better be a damn long way away from me when you make that criticism.

This is some of what I said in my email to the reviewer:

maria and anastasia, romanovs

relaxing after a hard night on the camp bed
(source: http://beinecke.library.yale.edu/

I have no problem at all with your criticism of my portrayal of the Romanov sisters. But I note that you actually took issue with my research … as it is a favorite historical period of yours, you will note the presence of Botkin and Gilliard on my reading list. Books such as these were not easy to track down but I do visit the British Library on a more or less annual basis and I believe I read them there.

The list here is not a complete one, for it formed only part of my research for a full novel, called ANASTASIA, which was widely praised on its release for the depth of its research by reviewers on all the nationals here. (‘Falconer’s grasp of period and places is almost flawless … He’s my kind of writer.’ – Peter Corris, The Australian.)


anastasia Colin Falconer

original cover, ‘Anstasia’, Random House

I accept that you personally dislike my portrayal of the Romanov sisters (although your statement that Anastasia was the best loved of the sisters would bear closer examination). But once you have read each of the attached seventeen books (my backgrounding for a fifty page novella), and if you think I have grossly ignored these sources for the sake of effect, then take me to task on my research. My take on the sisters and their attitudes may have disappointed you, but that is not the same thing as ignoring due diligence in researching an historical novel.”

The point is this: if your novelist gets their facts wrong, by all means point them out. (I make mistakes and I get emails about them, so I know what they are *slaps forehead*) and gladly they don’t happen too often. But I’m human, I slip up occasionally.

Wolf Hall

was Thomas Moore a man for all seasons or a flibbertigibbet?

But I don’t think it is just to go for an historical author’s jugular because they have come to a different conclusion about an historical figure’s character. Extrapolating is the name of the game.

 If anyone would like to draw their own conclusions I’ll get Cool Gus to send you a review copy. If you’d like to see my partial reading list (17 books for a novella) then I’ll be happy to forward it to you as well.

royal yacht Standart, Czar Nixcholas, Edward VII

a day out with the simple folk after a nice breakfast of bread and butter

If you’d like to comment on this post don’t make it personal to my little rant here. I’m not looking for sympathy, and I’ll have forgotten all about this tomorrow. What interests me is the broader argument that we started last week.

Incidentally, I’ve never seen a reviewer with a proper blog pull this sort of nonsense; without exception they understand historical perspective and come to a subject without bias.

Now I’ll stand back on this one. But by all means everyone, have your say! I’ve said my piece – and will now keep my peace …

About colinfalconer

author of bestselling historical novels like Anastasia, When We Were Gods, Aztec and Harem. My books have been published in the UK, US and ANZ and translated into seventeen languages.
This entry was posted in HISTORY, WRITING and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. prudencemacleod says:

    Hey Colin, I can truly relate to your reaction to this reviewer. I’ve had a few of those and I believe most of us have. So, you wanna borrow my chainsaw?

  2. I THINK that I agree with your reaction (there’s very little I KNOW). Victory should not always go to the loudest. Now breathe.

  3. charismaloy says:

    This is actually the primary reason that I have come to a standstill on my my Valkyrie and Viking story that I began in my blog. It covers a span of years before my lifetime and I need to be as true as possible to the realities that existed at the time. My characters are present at the holocaust, at the scene when the government drove Japanese Americans into internment camps, and stood before the firehouses in Birmingham. These were emotionally trying times and I feel that I cannot do them justice without further research. I hope to actually have the time to do that research before too long, as I have left my girls sitting on a rock in a stream listening to Nazi troops take over a town, a sad place for any character to stay for long.

  4. Celticlady says:

    I am a blogger/ reviewer and I hate to admit this but I have never read any of your works Colin. I must remedy that as historical fiction is a favorite of mine. I have read so many different versions of stories on the Tudors and have enjoyed every last one of them. I am not a historian and that is why I read historical fiction is because someone else has done the work…lol…I think people need to realize that when it says ‘fiction’ that is exactly what it is. I would never think to tell an author that their work is wrong…how the heck would I know?? I did not research the topic. And I would never give an author a 1 star review…If I felt that the book was that bad I would not give a negative review and would most likely let the author know personally..Keep on doing what you do and don’t worry about the naysayers!!!

  5. It’s fiction folks….but it seems as if so many people enjoy using reviews as a chance to criticize someone doing the work. pity

  6. violafury says:

    Okay, I’m sorry it took me so long to weigh in, but I wanted to be very careful about this. My first instinct was to jump straight down Grandma’s throat and after reading :”The House of Special Purpose,” I see no reason to change my viewpoint. If anything I am angrier than before. I believe that one of the reasons we read history, whether it is historical fiction or the actual histories themselves is for the sense of time and place. This also means that we put ourselves into the general zeitgeist of that time. Russia, in 1917 and prior by and large was not a happy place. The last thing anyone would do, I should think, is sympathize with sybaritic royalists. Call me a Bolshevik, Trotskyite or even a Menshevik, but I find it hard to sympathize with Anastasia.

    Colin, you paint a brilliant, nuanced picture of this young woman. I was dazzled. You took such care with her. I did sympathize with her. But you also made it very clear that when the servants left her view, they were nothing more to her. That whole family was made completely dysfunctional from generations of coddling and kow-towing by boyars and in-breeding, between the German, English and Russian thrones. I am not that conversant. The hemophilia of Alexei proves that, however. You, however did a wonderful job. What that reviewer did should never have been allowed by Amazon.

    I’m so mad about this I want to say something to them and here’s why. A friend of mine published her book on Early Onset Parkinson’s Disease and another friend reviewed it on Barnes and Noble. B and N wouldn’t publish her review because they said there was something that was not “politically correct” on the review. I have Early Onset Parkinson’s as well. We read that stupid review backward and forward. only two things jumped out at us: B and N doesn’t like the term “Parkies” or “Energeezers” but that witch can get away with a swipe at you on Amazon.

    Tell me what I can do, my friend. I’m going to write a review regardless. Your writing and research are stunning and without peer..

    • Thank you for all you said, but I feel I only did what most historical novelists do (and see Sherry Jones below to see how far some novelists take their passion) and did my homework. If you’d like to post a review on House of Special Purpose and tick the box next to Granny’s ‘was this review helpful’ and tick NO, then I would appreciate it.
      I have never heard of anyone being knocked back on a review because they were politically incorrect. It is notoriously difficult to get bad reviews removed, unless they are libelous. Censoring reviews because they are not PC is stepping on very thin ice.
      Thanks again for all you wrote.

  7. asraidevin says:

    I do not read reviews of my books at all. I don’t want to know. Especially on Amazon and Goodreads.

    All I know of Anastasia is what I saw on the Fox cartoon version. Perhaps that is what she based her knowledge on as well. 🙂

    • Normally I never read them either, Asrai. I found this by chance, a friend saw it and told me about it. They were pretty annoyed too! It sounds like she has read one book and thinks herself an expert. If she was a researcher she’d know there is NO SUCH THING as a known fact in history – every historian has their own point of view. Which is healthy.

      • asraidevin says:

        The amount of research you would have done overwhelms and intimidates me. Good on you for doing so.

        some people’s kids!!

      • Thanks Asrai. They may have been royal but the key word is ‘family’. I think some people think that princesses all come from the Walt Disney factory!

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