My love for Anastasia in almost any form knows no bounds. I love the movie and the story and the myths that go along with it. For a long time, I thought I might be Anastasia, the lost Duchess of Russia but then I learned that I would have to be QUITE old for that to be the case. A GIRL CAN DREAM!! Anyways…when I heard that the author of Fawkes, Nadine Brandes, was coming out with a book about Anastasia, well…I freaked out a bit. When I saw the cover, I did a little dance around the house. IT. IS. GORGEOUS. And somehow, I was able to get an ARC of Romanov to review. That being said, the story was not everything I had hoped. But before I get too carried away, let’s get to the review.
Synopsis (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.
At the start of the story, Nastya and her family are being held in a house surrounded by guards. But despite this, they have an ok life. They have endeared themselves to the guards, have everything they need, and most importantly, have each other.
Her brother, Alexei, is sick. He has hemophilia but by not telling the guards that (for obvious reasons), they have to take care of him and give him the medicine they have available to them. And some of those medicines include magic spells. Oh, yeah, did I forget to mention that there’s magic? Welp, now you know.
But things don’t stay comfortable for long.
The Bolshevik army soon moves the Romanov family deeper into the countryside to a house that is much simpler than the one the family had come to know and love. The guards they had grown to care for are exchanged for new ones who carry hate and disdain in their hearts for the Romanovs and everything they represent.
But there are a few guards who make it bearable. Ivan and Zash are Bolshevik soldiers instructed to guard the family but soon their feelings get in the way. Ivan becomes completely besotted with Nastya’s sister, Maria. They fall quickly in love. Zash, on the other hand, is not so quick to trust the family. Nastya does her best to talk to him and get as much information about him/his past as she can but he’s stubborn.
But so is she.
As they spend longer in each other’s company, they begin to care for one other. Not as Ivan and Maria do, but they start to feel the beginnings of something.
But they don’t get a chance to grow their feelings. After Nastya tries to get a message out to the resistance that is trying to free her family, the general and guards “protecting” their family are immediately switched out for a new set of guards. While the family does expect to be mistreated, they don’t expect to be put in front of a firing squad or Zash to be one of the men holding a rifle to Nastya’s heart.
The only saving grace is that before Nastya left their old home, she stole a Russian nesting doll from the main general who was in charge of what happened to them (also the general who ordered the firing squad). Her father, mother, and sister were sent to the new house weeks before the rest of the children (including Nastya) could go and before he left, her father told her that no matter what, she needed to get that doll. It would save them in the end. She expertly pickpockets it from the general and keeps it stowed away in the bodice of her dress.
But before they can use it, it has to open. The doll will only open when they need it most and despite their barely habitable conditions and their strict schedule, it doesn’t open. It only opens right before Nastya is shot.
Not giving away what happens after that is difficult, but it is too big of a spoiler. I will say that there is a ghost/magic element to the story, so keep that mind. The story wouldn’t be very long if Nastya died when she’s “supposed” to.
I enjoyed many parts of Romanov including Nastya’s relationship with her sisters, with her brother, Alexei, and with Zash. But most of all, I loved how Nastya developed as a character throughout the story. Even though she starts the book as a prisoner of sorts, she has to deal with worse and worse conditions as the story goes on and her ability to survive and persevere through nature and with people hunting her is really extraordinary.
Now to what I had some issues with. SPOILERS and RANT AHEAD! (the blog is called bookish rantings for a reason) There is a point in the story where Nastya decides that her father would want her to forgive the people who shot and killed her family and ultimately, she comes to the conclusion that she will forgive those men. I don’t know the exact timeline that the story takes place over but I would guess it’s about a couple weeks to a couple of months. There is no plausible way TO ME for anyone, let alone Nastya, to forgive the murderers of her family in that short period of time.
I think about forgiveness in my own life a lot and what it means and if it’s deserved and how long it takes. With this level of cruelty and violence (MURDER/ASSASSINATION), it is not believable for Nastya to forgive her and her family’s killers. I don’t care how religious or spiritual you are. It would take years.
I also didn’t love how Nastya’s father was used as the catalyst for why she felt she needed to forgive. He never felt like someone who would force that on her or even suggest it after what they had been through.
It is also doubly disappointing because Nastya ends up forgiving Zash for being involved in the death of her family but that is after he explains himself and we learn about his backstory and how he came to be a Bolshevik soldier. That storyline is GREAT. Nastya gets to understand why he was involved with the enemy and so do we.
But the way the story deals with her forgiveness of the people fully responsible for her family’s death needed to be developed WAY more. Forgiveness is a hell of a lot more complicated than just “yes, I forgive.” That’s not how it works and omg I wish the book would have shown each aspect of it. If the book had ended with Nastya feeling content and then giving some kind of explanation about how she would eventually forgive the Bolshevik army, I would have cried for 1000 hours. Since that wasn’t the case, I felt let down.
Also, since this book is borderline YA, I think it could be dangerous to show a young character very quickly forgiving her killers. Young people should be shown that forgiveness is hella more complicated than that and this story could have done that. Ok. Rant over.
Overall, I enjoyed Romanov. I thought Nastya’s characterization, the magic element, the family dynamics, and Zash’s backstory were all brilliant. It was just the forgiveness element that I had issues with. I am giving Romanov 3.5 out of 5 stars. If you like some fantasy and romance with your historical fiction, you will probably love this.
Romanov by Nadine Brandes comes out May 7, 2019
Thank you to Edelweiss and Thomas Nelson Publishing for the free ARC in exchange for my honest review.