Author: Nadine Brandes
Released: May 7 2019
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Goodreads Rating: 4.03 (of 205 ratings)
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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 survival 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’s never dabbled in magic before, but it doesn’t frighten her as much as her growing attraction for 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.
Disclaimer: I received this ARC courtesy of Thomas Nelson through NetGalley. I am grateful for the opportunity to review an ARC for my readers, but this will not influence my final rating. All opinions expressed in this review are my own and based solely on the book.
What can I say but thank you, Nadine Brandes, for gifting me with my first five star read of the year? (I read this much earlier than the publication of this review may suggest, but trust me, I was starving for a fantastic read.) Romanov is all the Russian history and magical realism you could ask for, wrapped up in evocative themes of loss, forgiveness, and strength in the face of adversity.
Like many, many others, I was introduced to the House of Romanov via the 1997 animated movie. I still get tears when I hear Once Upon a December and as far as I’m concerned, Rasputin was one of the creepiest on-screen villains. In Romanov, I had to take a step back from the *heavily* creative adaption that was the Anastasia movie, though. If you watched the film, here are some major differences to watch out for in the book:
📎 Rasputin isn’t an evil sorcerer bent on destroying the Romanov line. He’s a spell-caster who treated Nastya’s brother, Alexei, for hemophilia. He’s already dead at the beginning of the book, killed by the Bolsheviks for his use of magic.
📎 Anastasia, known as Nastya to her friends and family, is not separated from her grandmother after getting amnesia. In fact, in Romanov there is no grandmother. (Well, not of our protagonist’s, anyway.) Nastya spends most of her time with her brother, Alexei, and sister Maria. Both play a big part in the story.
That was how we sisters worked. When one was weak, another picked up the strength. — Romanov, Nadine Brandes
“[…] As we speak, Dr. Botkin is incapacitating the Bolsheviks.”
“Bravo, Dr. Botkin!” I applauded and we both giggled at the image of our dear doctor wielding his stethoscope as a weapon.
Almost as quickly as the giggles came, Alexei sobered and his face fell. “But imagine that I never get strong enough to travel…” —Romanov, Nadine Brandes
^^ why you have to make me emotional like this, Brandes???
I have to be honest in saying that 99% of the things I want to scream my adoration over would absolutely qualify as spoilers, so I had to severely edit my review to both 1) hype you up for this YA release while not 2) ruining the entire plot in one go. However, Brandes sticks closely to the Romanov’s history following their imprisonment by the Bolsheviks. If you’re familiar with the story, then you’ll spot the similarities while reading. I’ll admit it: I forgot/didn’t know a lot of details, but love how Brandes tied them in to Romanov while keeping the novel her own, original piece.
I personally think the book summary does Romanov a small injustice. Saying Nastya’s only chances of survival are to release a spell or rely on Bolshevik soldier Zash (her enemy) both made her sound unable to rely on her own strengths AND portrayed the Zash-Nastya romantic relationship as a large component of the book. But Nastya is a level-headed, clever girl who gets herself and her family out of trouble more than once using her own wits. And her relationship with Zash. Oh my, that needs a whole paragraph.
Nastya and her family have been held prisoner for months. They don’t know if they are to live or die. But Nastya’s father, the Tsar Nicholas II, is always quick to remind his children that all of their people are deserving of kindness. Even though they have been stripped of their royal titles, they are to act with goodness and grace. It is Nasty’s father’s instructions that encourage her, even in the hardest of times, to be friendly to the Bolshevik soldiers: including Zash. Nastya’s relationship with Zash represents the efforts of a family to love even when a country has turned against them.
I wished I could keep my peace the way [Papa] did. It was as though he bore no animosity. I tried to be like him, but sometimes I felt as though a small ball of hate lurked in the back corner of my heart—waiting to spring out and consume me. —Romanov, Nadine Brandes
I mentioned it already but I have no problem with repetition for this: 5 crowns for Romanov. A wonderful retelling of a history we have not forgotten, enriched with the magic of spell-casters. So, so glad this one came my way.
Have you heard about this retelling of Anastasia and the Romanov family?