Anastasia “Nastya” Romanov expects her family to be exiled in the wake of the revolution that dethroned her father Tsar Nicholas. Instead, Nastya and her family are soon imprisoned in Ekaterinburg and the family’s hopes to live their days out in quiet obscurity are dashed.
The Bolsheviks are reluctant to let the Romanovs go–especially with growing political unrest and threats of their rescue by the royalist White Russians.
On her way to Ekaterinburg Nastya has one task: smuggle a mysterious magical spell back to her family. The spell’s secrets have been lost to time, but Nastya’s father is still sure it is the secret to saving their family.
Imprisoned and isolated, the family tries to find small joys–and small kindnesses–where they can. As Nastya grows closer to Zash, a Bolshevik soldier with his own secrets, Nastya will have to decide what will pose a bigger danger to her family: the cost of using the spell or trying to befriend the enemy in Romanov (2019) by Nadine Brandes.
Brandes’ standalone novel infuses the history of the doomed Romanov family with magic and a bit of hope as it leans into the long-held legend that Anastasia and Alexei survived their family’s execution.
Romanov is well-researched and immediately evocative of both the dangerous unrest in Russia after the revolution and also the claustrophobic isolation Nastya and her family must have felt during their imprisonment in Ekaterinburg. The depiction of Nikolai’s hemophilia is done especially well.
While Brandes brings these characters to life with convincing detail, it’s an idealized picture that fails to explore the damage done by Tzar Nicholas’ reign including the rampant poverty and the widely held theory that his lack of training to become Tsar led to incompetence and bad decisions. Nastya, understandably perhaps, keeps her father on a pedestal and does not interrogate these problems in her first person narration.
The magic Brandes tries to incorporate into the story is always clumsy and never integrates well into what is otherwise a very straightforward work of historical fiction. Instead of adding to the story it often feels tangential at best despite building suspense over when (and how) to use the mysterious spell.
Romanov is an original if bittersweet alternate history. Recommended for readers who don’t mind to read their historical fiction through rose colored glasses.
Possible Pairings: The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia by Candace Fleming, Last of Her Name by Jessica Khoury, The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson, Heart of Iron by Ashley Poston, Dreaming of Anastasia by Joy Preble, The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandraby Helen Rappaport , The Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye