**Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Thomas Nelson through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
Romanov by Nadine Brandes is an alternate history version of the execution of the Romanov family, the last royal family of Russia with magic.
Here’s the summary from Goodreads:
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.
So here are my thoughts! I gave Romanov a 4.5/5 stars. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. To be completely honest, I have been fascinated with the Romanovs and the last Tsar of Russia, and specifically Anastasia. I think this dates back to be reading the Royal Diaries book on Anastasia and then other historical fiction books about her including one called My Anastasia, and it has always struck me as heartbreaking what happened to that family. I know that it is probably a romanticized sentiment, but I can’t help the way I feel. I will always love to read about this family and I will always be heartbroken by it, and you will always catch me reading retellings of this story or alternate takes. This hit all of those notes. It’s a retelling of what happened, and is clearly based on the real history of the event, and it gave a bit of an alternative take with the magic system that it included.
I loved the main characters in this book. Anastasia was wonderfully well developed and I empathised with her as she had to make her major decisions and circumnavigate the problems that developed. I also just enjoyed her as a character. She felt real, and like someone I might encounter in my everyday life. She felt also like the historical figure that she is. Perhaps that’s a weird point to make, but it is how I felt. I was also really intrigued by Zash. I wanted to know what he was up to and what his deal was. He was very engaging. The main villain, Yurovsky, was also quite interesting. I’m the kind of reader who has a gut reaction of dislike towards villains, and that was immediately here for him. However, he’s one of the scarier type of villain because again he seems like the type of person you could encounter in real life. I would never want to meet a Yurovsky in real life, so nicely done on the characterization there. Outside of those main three characters, there was a variety of side characters. Some of them were more well developed than others, but I was a little sad that Anastasia’s sisters didn’t play a bigger role in the story aside from Maria. Alexei was a big part, and his characterization was also quite intriguing to me. The characters that we did get a decent look at were always really well done.
Storywise, I felt that the book had a rather slow start. It felt like it took a really long time to get into the actual story, or more specifically the exciting part of the book. The blurb on Goodreads led me to believe that the firing squad/execution scene would be happening a lot sooner into the story than it actually did. It didn’t actually happen til about 50% of the way through the book, and there was a part of me that felt that the book was dragging its feet to get to the exciting part. Once it got to that firing squad scene, the book got a lot more fast paced and I blew through the end of the story because I just needed to know how it all played out. Additionally, I should clarify that when I say it was slow to start, I didn’t necessarily mind all that much. That slow start allowed time to develop Anastasia, the other characters, and the romance. I liked the way that Brandes wrote the novel and the writing was engaging enough to keep me going. Also when you know what happens to the Romanovs (the firing squad) and you know that scene is coming, it’s enough to keep most people reading.
Something that was kind of iffy for me was the romance that was featured in this book. Both of the newly developed ones (ie not Alexandra and Nicholas) were between a prisoner and guard, and that’s something that’s always made me a little bit uncomfortable. It’s an unequal power balance that makes me uncomfortable. However, because of the way the Romanovs interacted with their initial guards made it slightly better. Nicholas and his children were very good at arousing sympathies from their guards which made things a little bit better. That being said, I still couldn’t really get behind things with Anastasia and Zash until things equalled out between them.
I really loved the ending of the book. I’m not going to get into detail or go into specifics, but it made me really happy and I felt like it was perfect. It was just the kind of ending I wanted.
I also liked the added historical notes at the end so you can see where Brandes stuck to history and where she fidgeted and fudged it. I liked that even though she had a magical take on the story, she still incorporated a lot of historical details into the story. Initially though, I had the impression that she was being a bit of a Rasputin apologist and making him out to better than he was, because let’s be real, Rasputin was sketchy as fuck, but in the end it turned out he was still just as sketchy as in real life, and I appreciated that she stuck to that.
Anywho, on the whole I really quite enjoyed this book. It was fun and adventurous and had great characters. It comes out on May 7th, so when it hits the shelves you should get yourself a copy. It is a totally awesome story. Thanks again to the publishers and Netgalley for this opportunity.