Author: Nadine Brandes
Genre: Fantasy/Historical Fiction
Description: 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.
Romanov is a historical fantasy retelling of the real life story of Anastasia Romanov. It follows the Grand Duchess and her family through their time of exile up until their execution via a firing squad and onward. The tale documents both the real life and magical as they merge to craft the novel as it was meant to be told.
Family is a central focus of the narrative. The Romanov's are bound by blood that is both their greatest strength and burden. Portrayal of the family lends to an endearing perspective that adds a sympathetic nature to what could have been demonstrated as a cold, detached Tsar and his family. While they are all cherished by each other, Alexei and Nastya, aka Anastasia, share a beautiful kinship unlike any other, one that carries them forward.
Despite their circumstances, the Romanov family focuses on forgiveness and goodwill toward those guarding them. Their faith is solidified by their belief that they will be able to prove themselves to the Bolsheviks. Sparks of conviction in the potential of the Russian people, no matter where that has landed them, are held by the family.
The tension between the Bolsheviks and Romanov's are powerful, especially that in regards to Nastya. You can feel Nastya's worry for her family through the page - and there is so much to worry about from her brother's illness to her sister's growing feelings for a Bolshevik to her papa's new station in life.
Nastya is a girl on the verge of womanhood weighed down by her family's legacy. In spite of this, she maintains a blooming part of herself that dares to dream of better days ahead, a simple life for her and her family. She has a strong belief in her opinions and how she interprets others. Nastya is intelligent and cunning - made so by a history of royalty and, recently, the Bolsheviks.
Impish Nastya has a knack for the mischievous. She partakes in her own small acts of rebellion against the Bolsheviks - no matter how small they may be at times. In more tender moments, Nastya's vulnerability leaps to the forefront. It pulls at the reader's emotions at the thought of the Grand Duchess leaving all she has ever known for a prison sentence.
Even with the adult circumstances being forced upon her, Nastya keeps a childlike characteristic about her. Nastya's will to survive is powerful. But it's not fueled by selfishness, instead a love for her family. She is a fierce protagonist with a willingness to protect those she cares about - to survive for them.
When Zash joins the scene, he is an enigma of harsh words and hostility. Zash's rough exterior expresses hints of a kindness unknown to the world. And this multifaceted fact is one reason why all the characters are so alive under the author's guidance.
Readers can sense the hesitant chemistry shared by Zash and Nastya. The balance between Zash and Nastya's distance and simultaneous understanding exceeds expectations. The commentary on class and its barriers ring throughout as an undertone. It adds to the overarching Romeo-Juliet esque narrative of Zash and Nastya. Their relationship transcends their tragic circumstance, Bolshevik vs. Romanov.
An interwoven history of fact and fiction, reality and magic, is brought forth to form a tale as intriguing as it is fantastical in a dull and lonely Russian setting. The magic sprinkled throughout a familiar time period is well done. It feels like a secret world lurking right under humanity's nose. Information about the world is given so as not to overload the reader but still provide them an outline for the magic system.
Nadine Brandes' writing style is a beautifully crafted structure that takes nothing for granted. She writes so that each word feels like a punch to the heart, heartbreaking and full of force. The author has a knack for forging connections between the reader and the characters. When a tragedy befalls them it settles heavily on the reader's chest.
There is a steady buildup that seems to up the stakes with every new page. The cold calculations of the Bolsheviks in the pivotal scene leave the reader gasping for breath. It is a contrast that shows humanity's ability for violence. Zash's betrayal rips through the reader like the bullets that pierce the Romanov's.
As it is read, the author paints Nastya's pain so vividly that it practically becomes that of the person who is reading the book. The conflict between Zash and Nastya toward the end is laden with regret and a will to forgive - even if it is not known how it will be accomplished. Forgiveness as a concept is woven among every word as characters struggle with what it is to forgive someone - both those they love and their enemies.
As the book closes, the scenes become all encompassing in their hope and desperation. Seeing the remaining Romanovs choosing their fates at the end feels like a rebirth, or rather a revival defined by remembering the past and moving on from it.