Book Review

Romanov

I’ve heard some great things about Romanov by Nadine Brandes, and as a lover of stories about Russia, I knew I had to get my mitts on a copy. So I requested it from my library, and rushed off to get it the day it arrived. Along with 7 other books … but I immediately read the Russian inspired books first.

The history books say I died.

They don’t know the half of it.

Anastasia “Nastya” Romanov was given a single mission: to smuggle an ancient spell into her suitcase on her way to exile in Siberia. It might be her family’s only salvation. But the leader of the Bolshevik army is after them, and he’s hunted Romanov before.

Nastya’s only chances of saving herself and her family are to either release the spell and deal with the consequences, or enlist help from Zash, the handsome soldier who doesn’t act like the average Bolshevik. Nastya has only dabbled in magic, but it doesn’t frighten her half as much as her growing attraction to Zash. She likes him. She thinks he might even like her.

That is, until she’s on one side of a firing squad . . . and he’s on the other.

This book is partially based in historical fact, but it also has a magical fantasy twist to it. I’ve recently read some fiction that takes place around the time of the Russian Revolution (The Revolution of Marina M., Chimes From a Lost Cathedral, A Gentleman in Moscow) and the way in which history is woven into the story never fails to amaze me. The same goes for this book as well, although this one leans into fantasy, unlike the others that stay in the realm of actual events that could have actually occurred.

The story begins after Tsar Nikolai had abdicated, allowing Lenin and his Bolsheviks to take control of the government. Rasputin was revealed to be a spell master, and after his execution, the Bolsheviks outlawed the use of spells. The family is confined to a house in Tobolsk, until they are ordered to relocate. I loved the way that spells were incorporated into the story, and set the stage for the conflict between the Bolsheviks and the spell masters, who have been forbidden to practice their craft. Since the family is confined for much of the story, we don’t get to see as much of the setting as I would have liked. Russian words are sprinkled throughout the story; most of them are defined, but I found myself looking some words up as well.

Nastya is portrayed from the start as the most mischievous member of the Romanov family, who loved to play pranks and make others laugh, but also the only one of the Romanovs who had any experience with using spells. Since her training with Rasputin was cut short, she’s very limited in what she can do. I found her to be a very likable character. Nastya is smart and rebellious, but she’s got a strong moral compass and a kind heart.

Throughout the book, she struggled with her frustrations over her situation and not being able to do anything about it, following instructions from her father than she may not have understood at the time, and how the people of Russia viewed her family compared to how the family actually appeared to her, as someone on the inside. She did a lot of growing up during the book, more than I would expect to see from someone of her age, although difficult times and war play a role. Nastya is portrayed as the only one who could save the family, and I sincerely hoped that this story would have a very different one from the historical events.

The story was an interesting one for me. Anastasia and Alexei Romanov’s remains weren’t discovered until early in the 21st century, and there was speculation that Anastasia may have survived, at least until her burial site was located. The clever retelling of this story with the addition of a magical aspect was something that I loved reading about, and I actually learned a lot about the family and their situation from this book. The plot did move a bit slowly for a while, but just after the halfway point was when the story started moving faster. Themes of kindness, hope, faith, love, and even forgiveness were threaded through this book. While the story isn’t fully historically accurate, I think it portrayed the Romanov family as human and down to earth. I wasn’t disappointed when I finished this book at all.

People who have sat around with me while I’m reading, especially when there’s a surprising reveal, a shocking plot twist, or an unexpected event often look up in alarm when I gasp audibly. The gasp factor is directly related to the number of times I audibly gasp during a reading, and there isn’t an upper limit.

Gasp Factor: 18

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