by Nadine Brands
Genre: YA Historical Fantasy
Publisher: Harper Collins
Book Release Date: May 7, 2019
My Review: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Hope never abandoned us- only we could abandon it.
Romanov, Nadine Brandes, page 182
When I saw a new retelling on the Romanov family and Anastasia Romanov, I knew I had to read this. The fact that there was a fantasy element to it – even better! I received an ARC from the publisher, and this is my honest and voluntary review.
What I loved about this book was how much true history went into it. I have always been fascinated with the true Romanov story, probably above an average level, and I could tell this author did her homework. The story is told from the perspective of Anastasia “Nastya” Romanov, who begins the novel at age 16 and turns 17 during the course of the story. She’s sort of the mischievous shvibzik of the family, not rebellious but definitely one who pushes her boundaries and knows how to be sly when she needs to be. She was a very relatable character who earned my interest and sympathy right away. She struggled with a lot of things, understandably so, but went to a lot of effort, often at great risk, to help her family. The biggest struggle for her, I felt, was working within her limitations because she wanted to do more and much of what she thought she needed to do was far beyond her control or ability, and I thought the author captured these feelings well. I felt them right alongside her.
Yurovsky was a character I genuinely hated (and I was supposed to). He did horrible, unspeakable things with absolutely no remorse or sense of humanity whatsoever, and I felt that this big theme of humility and forgiveness that Papa preached and emulated to their family that Nastya tried very hard to understand and practice, would have been very hard for me.
Zash, the Bolshevik soldier who first came into the picture in Tobolsk and then on to guard the family at Ipatiev House, started out as a hard, solid, defensive and dutiful soldier that you think you’re going to hate until you don’t. His character was interesting and different, and I would’ve liked to know more about his history and what his life was like before he came to be a Bolshevik soldier. He plays his part, and in some cases way too well… you’ll know what I mean if you read the book… but it’s hard not to love this guy, and it was fun to watch the way he came to play a part in Nastya’s story and her fictional life.
There’s a point about halfway through the book where an inspector comes in and finds something happening that sets events into motion, and that is where the story starts getting to where you cannot put it down. There’s a sense of urgency and unrest, an anxious need to keep reading to find out what happens next, and there are times of dread and times of relief, and the story is very deep and heartbreaking because you’re thinking in the back of your mind that a lot of this is historically factual. Let that sink in as you’re reading this book.
The four reasons I can’t give this book 5 stars are:
1. The first maybe half of this 335-page book was a little on the slow side as far as pacing went. Not boring – it held my attention, and there wasn’t a point where I wanted to put the book down, but just not a whole lot was happening up until about the halfway point. That is when it really started rolling. (But when it did, it really got good!)
2. We got a lot about Nastya (Anastasia), and a fair amount of Alexei, a little less of Maria. The other two siblings, Tatiana and Olga, were just kind of mentioned here and there with not much else. Was this because of their age differences? They didn’t play as big of a role in Nastya’s life? And while we got to know a little about Papa and just a tiny scene where Mamma revealed a secret to Nastya, Mamma was otherwise nonexistent in the story. I felt like some of these characters could have been fleshed out a little more than they were. In some cases, it was like they were just kind of there with no emotional connection or purpose.
3. I hate to say it, but I didn’t really feel like the Romanov family’s time spent in exile at the Ipatiev House was made to seem all that bad. Maybe it got a little boring, but who hasn’t spent time in their childhood bored out of their mind stuck in a house somewhere when they wanted to be anywhere else? Was that really just me???
4. The magic, I felt, was very low key, almost to the point of magical realism in this story, up until toward the end. There was “healing magic” throughout that I would almost equate to the topical use of essential oils and the power of self-fulfilling prophecy. It wasn’t until the end when Dochkin and the use of the Matryoshka doll and its hidden powers really came into play that magic really became prominent in the story. I guess I would like to have seen the fantasy aspects be a little more central to the overall story.
That being said, I really enjoyed this book overall. I read it all in one day, except for the very last chapter that I woke up and read the following morning. I loved this fictional take on a factual story in history, and I can’t wait to hear what other people’s thoughts are on it.