Romanov by Nadine Brandes
Published by Thomas Nelson on May 7, 2019
Genres: Fantasy, Historical, Historical Fiction, Retellings, Young Adult
Length: 352 pages Source: NetGalley
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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.
Disclaimer: I received this book for free from NetGalley and Thomas Nelson in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Listen, I’m all for science fiction. I like sci-fi. But my heart belongs to fantasy and Nadine Brandes’ retelling has hints of magic, historical fiction, and alternate history. This is the Anastasia retelling I’ve been trying to find for a couple years. So let me tell you why, outside the genre, I love it.
Nadine Brandes’s Fawkes received a bit of love from the blogging community last year. I was never supremely interested in Fawkes, but now that I’ve read Romanov, I’m sold on her writing. She writes simply enough that the story never feels like it’s dragging. You constantly feel the characters’ emotions without them bogging down the story too much. The setting was always clear, but it wasn’t to flowery. I enjoyed it for a quick read.
Then the characters. I really liked Nastya. I wasn’t sure I would at the beginning – she seemed a little childish and I was afraid that she was going to evolve into one of those protagonists who gained a lot of power and saved everyone… but started off as a mouse. I don’t mind that sort of character arc over a series, but in a single book, it seems so unbelievable. That didn’t happen though. Nastya struggled in her daily life. She made bad decisions. She never exceeded her abilities – she was as real as I could have wanted. And I say the same for Alexei. Alexei Romanov was hampered by physical ailments – largely weakness and hemophilia. This affliction never stopped being an obstacle for him, even at the very end it is acknowledged he could never be fully healed. I love it when authors follow through on the vulnerabilities they give their characters.
Those are the historically derived characters. Zash is pure fiction, and he was fantastic. His character was so broken inside… he struggled between morality and survival and love and fear. Nadine wrote Zash so well. There were scenes that gave me shivers – particularly a forest scene about 60% through the book. It was just… so good.
Which leads me to the love story. I loved this love story. It had everything I wanted, with so many difficulties and complications. I was never really sure if love would win out. Even at the end of the book, there is a feeling of struggle. Layered love stories like this are wonderful and they completely ruin me for the soft fluffy ones that are so common in YA.
I really enjoyed the way Nadine used magic in this book. I feel like this is more historical fiction than it is fantasy – the magic is important, but it is a complimentary side dish and not the entire point of the story. In the sci-fi retellings I’ve read, the tech and space travel have taken front and center, and not the Anastasia story. That’s not the case with Romanov. Anastasia, Alexei, and their family are the story here. That’s what I wanted from this retelling, and I loved it.
All in all… if you love the Romanov story… this is a wonderful retelling. Romanov fully embraces the history and brings it to life. It humanizes the Romanov family, distances Rasputin a bit form the story, and gives the family life. It was really good, and I thoroughly recommend it.