In this imagined tale of fifteen-year-old Princess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia, a camera mysteriously arrives as a welcome gift, first to photograph her life behind the palace walls, and then beyond the liminal space that the Russian revolution has generated for her and her family.

The story begins on a snowy winter day with a moth attending the birth of the fourth Romanov princess. The disappointment in the birth of a fourth daughter is only mitigated by the subsequent birth of her brother. His illness, while often a large part of this family historic record, is only a side note to both Anastasia’s historical and fantastical experiences with the revolution and the filmic documentation with the mysterious camera. Although she never discovers the identity of the gift giver, the camera becomes an integral part of her daily life. She carries it everywhere with her, seemingly having an unlimited supply of film that is developed on a regular basis. At first, the photographs are benign pictures of the monotonous life of the children behind the palace walls but soon Anastasia is visited by vivid dreams and then, in her peripheral vision, discovers that she is being followed by a creature that may not be human. The most haunting aspect of this creature, and ultimately the story itself, is that it is not a foreshadowing of the devastation and death that we know is coming for this family but a personal connection for Anastasia that becomes violently disconnected at the end of the tale. The reader is left with many questions and no distinct answers.

The moth returns at the end to this succinct and partially wordless narrative to replicate the feeling of the circular action of many folktales, which initially attracted this reader to the storytelling in the book. Also, previously, eons ago, I had been fascinated by the Romanov story, and this book, while not factually truthful, brought me full circle to my earlier self which was an additional unexpected gift for me. While not an uplifting tale, The Gift satisfied and delighted me in so many ways.

Canadian illustrator and writer, Zoe Maeve, undertook a great deal of research on the Romanov family history for the story but soon deviated from historical accuracy to create her own backdrop for her tale. While not adhering to the historical record, this research is paramount in making her story rich and inviting for the reader. The generally unadorned but detailed illustrations, done in delicate inks and rendered in varied shades of blue, establish, and embellish the evocative and poignant dreamscape of the story.

This is not an uncomplicated novel to ignore and easily forget. Initially intended for a young adult audience, this book should appeal to a wide age range of readers interested in the supernatural, horror, Russian history, and photography.

The Gift Vol. 
By Zoe Maeve
Conundrum, 2021
ISBN: 9781772620559

Publisher Age Rating: YA
Series ISBNs and Order
Related media: 

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Creator Representation:  Canadian,  Character Representation: Russian, Chronic Illness,

  • Gail

    | She/Her Professor, Library and Information Studies, University of Alberta


    In addition to teaching at the School of Library and Information Studies (University of Alberta) where she is an adjunct professor, Gail tells stories and conducts workshops on a wide variety of topics across Canada and the United States. Each year she teaches the following courses for the University of Alberta. All of her courses are delivered online: Storytelling, Comic Books and Graphic Novels in School and Public Libraries, Canadian Children’s Literature for School and Public Libraries and Young Adult Literature. She also teaches a course on Indigenous Literature for the ATEP program (Aboriginal Teacher Education Program) at the University of Alberta. Gail is the award-winning author of nine books on storytelling and folklore in popular culture.

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