Romanov by Nadine Brandes
Expected publication: May 7th, 2019
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.
Rating: 4/5 stars
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Hi it’s me, back from the dead! The publisher kindly sent me an eARC of Romanov through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This has not influenced my opinion and, as always, this review is spoiler-free.
What first struck me about Romanov is the magic system: in this version of Russia, spell masters and their contemporaries can wield magic through spell ink, which they use to scribble and cast spells. Nastya learned to use spell ink from the late Rasputin to ease her brother Alexei’s chronic pain from hemophilia. The idea of words as magic spoke to me immediately because it was something that anyone could access and use. In a place where spell masters are now hunted and executed for their crafts, the availability of magic was an intriguing and unique one. I’ve yet to read of a magic system like this one.
I also appreciated the sense of historical accuracy throughout the first half of the book. From the prose alone, I could tell that Brandes did her research and was incredibly knowledgeable about what really happened in the final months of the Romanovs’ lives. She also weaved fictional characters and ideas into the story; I had trouble discerning what was fact and what was fiction, but this added to my reading experience. That feeling of well-researched accuracy disappeared at about the two-thirds mark, but I think it had to. Brandes didn’t write a textbook, and I appreciated the creative liberties she took; they made for a more interesting novel.
While the world was rich, the characters sometimes fell into archetypes. Nastya felt full and round to me, as did Zash (the Bolshevik guard who catches Nastya’s eye) and Maria (Nastya’s sister), but other supporting characters could have used some rounding out. There was the father who preached nothing but goodness, the ruthless commandant who oversaw their exile, and the wizened spell master who was as peculiar as he was curious, among others. These characters deserved more development than they got.
Another part of the story that seemed a little fuzzy was the premise. In the beginning, Nastya’s father tells her to retrieve a Matryoshka doll from their quarters and keep it safe because it will reveal spells that will help their family. As the spells are revealed throughout the story, I had a tough time believing that Nastya knew exactly what each spell was meant to show her even when she was presented with almost no clues. The set-up seemed improbable.
Overall, I enjoyed this lovely story about a mystery that has continued to entrance us even after it’s been solved. Brandes’ novel gave the story of Anastasia and the Romanovs a new spin that I highly recommend.
What are your favorite historical retellings? If you’ve read Romanov, how did my thoughts on the book compare to yours?
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