Romanov – Nadine Brandes
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Thomas Nelson through Netgalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
Oh hello arc I received last year and only just got around to reading… Oops. Better late than never I suppose.
Anyway, you’re going to have to stick with me here because I have a lot of thoughts on this book and not all of them make sense, it was very much a read of two halves for me, so I guess we better get started…
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 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.
First things first, let’s just give kudos to whoever designed the cover for this because it is NOICE.
Secondly, for my thoughts on this to make sense, we need to step back in time and visit teenage!Leah. You see, much like now, teenage!Leah was really into history, which is why she was so excited to do history at A-Leve and even more so when she learned that one of the topics she would get to study was Russian history, specifically, the rise of communism, the Bolsheviks and the fall of the Romanov dynasty. Sadly, the person who was charged with teaching us Russian history, well… history at all, turned up for a grand total of three of our lessons. All term. Which meant we got merged with another history class who were doing Irish history instead. So I mean, I still got to learn about a revolution and fighting but in a different country, in different circumstances. Long story short, all I knew about Russian history then was what I had picked up as general knowledge and what I had learned from the animated movie Anastasia. Which is why I wanted to read this book, I knew it was a fictionalised retelling of the fall of the Romanov’s and in particular the story of Anastasia Romanov, who, it was speculated managed to escape from execution. Only, the thing is, after reading this, I still don’t have an understanding of what was going on in Russia at that time with those people. It just didn’t go far enough in terms of the historical fiction element.
This was really beautifully written, the story begins with the Romanovs already in captivity and the Bolshevik soldiers guarding them are splitting up the family, supposedly for the former Tsar to be tried for his crimes against the people of Russia. (What these are aren’t actually explained at any point) Only this is a ruse to move the family to another prison. I really felt immersed in the claustrophobic and oppressive atmosphere of the house that imprisoned the family, honestly, the writing style is amazing. But despite being cooped up in the house with all the Romanovs, I didn’t feel like I knew any of them bar Anastasia (or Nastya as she is affectionately known). Alexei and their father got a bit more characterisation, but the rest of the family felt very two dimensional and we never really got to find out much about the motivations of anyone. The scene setting was great, but it didn’t really reveal much about what was going on in terms of society or what was happening politically.
The PR surrounding this book mentions that it is a ‘fantastical’ retelling of the Romanov story and there is a magical element, which was fine and is included from the beginning but I didn’t really understand it. Nadine Brandes basically gives us a more magical theory to explain Nastya’s escape but the magic system didn’t make a lot of sense to me. How it worked, who could master it and where it came from didn’t really feature and I found myself falling out of the story whenever the magic was being used because I couldn’t get my head around it.
Earlier on I said that this was a read of two halves, on the one hand, it was a deliciously written, engaging story about a family in dire circumstances, but on the other, it didn’t read much like a historical fiction and the fantasy element didn’t really do it for me.
Basically, I really enjoyed it, but it left me wanting more and I don’t feel like I’m any the wiser about this period of history.