By Nadine Brandes
Published May 7, 2019 by Thomas Nelson
The story of the fate of the the last Tsar of Russia and his family is one that is still fresh in the public consciousness. It’s been 100 years since their tragic deaths, but there are countless books on the topic. Romanov is a young adult version of the story with magic added.
Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia (Nastya to her family) is imprisoned with her family after the Russian Revolution. She and her family don’t know what their fate will be. They expect that her father, the former Tsar, will be put on trial, or exiled to a remote part of Russia. The Tsar tells Nastya to guard a Matryoshka doll that contains a spell that will help the family. In this version of the revolution, the Bolsheviks are going around killing any spell masters, and the doll may hold the family’s last chance at salvation.
The first half of the book tells the story of the family’s imprisonment, first in Tobolsk, under conditions of some comfort, and then at Ekaterinburg, where the conditions were much grimmer. Nastya is the fourth of five children and the youngest daughter. She’s know in the family as imp (shvibzik) for her love of mischief and practical jokes. She works to keep her family’s spirits up, especially her brother Alexei, who is in constant pain from injuries related to his being a hemophiliac.
I enjoyed this part of the book. The sense of claustrophobia and the family’s uncertainty about the future are well done, and the sense of pervasive anxiety works well for the story. The family is hoping that the White Army (the counter-revolutionary forces) will rescue them, but with no news from outside their prison, everything is uncertain. The magical elements only come into play in the second half of the book. At that point, the tone changes quite a bit, as we go from historical events into the realm of the speculative. I enjoyed the magical elements, but I’m still not sure I like the way they were worked into the history. It was interesting, but it didn’t quite work for me.
Nastya is an entertaining character. I’ve always been interested in the real Anastasia (because of the legends that she survived her family’s slaughter), and her portrayal in Romanov feels true to life. She’s a bit of trouble-maker and acts before she thinks, but she loves her family and wants to do anything she can to save them. Her relationships with her father, Alexei, and the next oldest sister Maria are all very nicely done. Her romance with a Bolshevik guard is somewhat less convincing, but it’s at least historically probable as there are accounts of the Grand Duchesses having flirtations with the guards during their captivity.
There were a couple of historical inaccuracies that bugged me. Tsar Nicholas II is portrayed as a very saintly figure. And while yes, he was a loving husband and father, and he cared about his country, he was also a criminally incompetent ruler, and that’s really glossed over. The book is told through Anastasia’s point of view, so of course, she thinks highly of her father, but I wish there had been some acknowledgment that he was a less than ideal ruler. It’s also mentioned multiple times that Rasputin, the healer who held great influence over the imperial family because of his ability to help Alexei, was murdered by the Bolsheviks. Rasputin was actually murdered by another member of the Imperial family, an aristocrat, and a right-wing politician. But I’m a Russian history nerd, so this may not bother other readers.
I did enjoy the book, although I wish the magical elements had been a bit more integrated into the story from the start. The second half of the book is very exciting, and I liked how the author added magic to known historical events.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Thomas Nelson through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.