Back cover copy: 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 either to release the spell and deal with the consequences, or to 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 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.
My review: I read Romanov for my historical fiction choice in the Read Something New 2021 Book Challenge (hosted on my other website, AuthorLeighDeLozier.com). It wasn’t the book I originally planned to read for that spot but kept begging me to take it from my ever-growing to-read stack. So I finally gave in – and am glad I did.
Portions of Romanov are based on historical fact. The father, Emperor Nicholas II, was the last czar of Russia. Their family was exiled and later executed by a Bolshevik firing squad in 1918. When the gravesite of the family was found years later, two members were missing: Anastasia and her younger brother Alexei. Rumors persisted for years that they had somehow survived the firing squad and lived out their lives in secret and/or under different identities. Their remains were not found until 2007, buried in a separate grave near the rest of the family.
Romanov adds magical aspects to historical facts to weave a fantastical but believable story. Anastasia is a beginning-level spell master who knows just enough magic to create spells that help relieve the pain and injuries that Alexei experiences because of hemophilia. She is fiercely loyal and feels tremendous responsibility to help him however she can, but the Bolsheviks are hunting down and killing spell masters (in addition to wanting the Romanov family out of their way).
But Anastasia also is a typical teenage girl in many ways – playing pranks, doing things to make her sisters or Alexei laugh, navigating the feelings associated with her first crush, and learning to remain hopeful despite grappling with frustration, anger, and forgiveness.
The characters of Romanov are multi-layered and believable, even the secondary characters and antagonists. That’s part of what kept me reading and enjoying the story.
Faith elements are also strong, despite having magic be such an important element in the story. The family prays together and talks about things related to their faith, plus topics related to living a life of faith (hope, respect, forgiveness, grace) are integral to the story.
Who should read it: Historical fiction fans should enjoy Romanov, though sticklers who might get hung up on the magical aspect might enjoy reading something like I Was Anastasia by Ariel Lawhon more (I read that one a couple years ago and liked it). Romanov is categorized as young adult fiction, but I can see it appealing to readers from middle school to adult. It covers some fairly heavy topics related to the war and violence, but they aren’t too much for a mature middle schooler to handle (and are much less graphic than plenty of other books targeting that age group).
Your turn: Have you read books about the Russian Revolution or the Romanov family? Have you read any books by Nadine Brandes? This is the first of her books that I’ve read but it won’t be the last!