Happy Wednesday, I hope your week is going well.
I’ve always had a fascination with the Romanovs and the mystery of Anastasia. I think my earliest memory of this was when I saw the Bluth/Goldman animated film that was released in 1997. I even had an adorable little Pooka plush toy that I took everywhere! Fast forward to studying the Russian Revolution at school and the mystery about what happened to the Romanovs had me hooked. I was convinced that Anastasia was still alive and hadn’t really died. Diamonds sewn into a corset really did prevent her from death by firing squad and she’d somehow escaped to live out the rest of her life. Obviously these ideas had taken root in my head before Alexei’s and Anastasia’s remains were found in 2007 and it was proven conclusively that they had both died in 1918.
Nadine Brandes’ book, offered me the fictional release that Anastasia never did truly die, mix that with a touch of magic and boy did Romanov deliver!
Book: Romanov by Nadine Brandes
Genre: Historical Fantasy
Publication Date: 7th May 2019
Publisher: Thomas Nelson [Shelflove Crate Exclusive]
‘Not even royal blood can stop bullets.’
Without actually having a part one and part two, the story divides itself into two parts: the first being the family’s move from Tobolsk to Ekaterinburg and the second focusing on what happened after the fateful assassination of 16-17 July 1918. We see the tone of the story change from light to dark as history unfolds and Nastya is such a terrific narrator to navigate the reader through this.
‘Impatience was the grim reaper of all victories.’
The true-to-history anecdotes of her pranks and the way she is nicknamed schvibzik (imp) created an idea of such a playful character. In the first part, the reader experiences all of her thoughts and feelings: the friendships and conversations struck up with Bolshevik guards, the childlike way of looking at the situation she was in and the almost naïve innocence that her family was going to be rescued out of their exile by the White Army. The way this contrasts with the second part of the story was really well-balanced. At times it felt like a rite-of-passage and you were watching Anastasia rapidly grow up in the aftermath of events. She was an indomitable force on the page. All of her insecurities, vulnerabilities, grit and determination were laid out for the reader to absorb. I felt that her characterisation was powerful and I don’t know whether it was purely the writing or the interpretation of the narration in my head, but I couldn’t help hear Anastasia talking in Jodie Comer’s accent from the Killing Eve series – the mischievousness between them was also fairly apt.
‘Because I have a story I was meant to live. And not even you can unwrite it.’
The Russian references contained within the novel were clearly laid out and explained without being overbearing. It really helped to build the Romanov’s world inside my head. You can tell Brandes is proud of her links to Russia without it being forced into your face through every paragraph. The spell magic in the story was subtle yet effective enough to balance with the more historical elements of the tale. To make spells and become a spell-master, one must have spell ink to write the spell words. For the caster, the words hover around in the air or melt onto the tongue until they are ready to be used at the perfect moment. I really liked the way the iconic Matryoshka doll also played a role in this story and featured as a nod to its real-life creator.
‘We were always meant to be on opposite sides of a pistol’.
Themes of forgiveness and love feature strongly throughout the story. Nastya’s Papa’s belief that everyone should be forgiven no matter what they have done comes full circle in the end and drives home a poignant message; especially for anyone suffering from any emotional turmoil themselves.
‘As I lay in the grass next to the spell that could rid me of heart pain, I realised that a part of forgiveness was accepting the things someone had done – and the pain that came with that – and moving on with love. Forgiveness was a personal battle that must always be fought in my heart. Daily. And though I was tired of running and surviving and fighting… I wasn’t ready to surrender that battle yet.’
Alexei’s condition also shines a sensitive note on overcoming barriers and living your best life in spite of all the odds stacked against you – fair enough he has access to magic, but the sentiment is still there through his relentless attitude.
‘I saw a bond form – between an old spell master and a young boy who never let his illness hold him back from his dreams and duties.’
All in all, I was tremendously intrigued and fascinated by this book. I bought into the characters. I enjoyed the way the writing flowed, offering enough description and dialogue to keep the plot unfolding and the world building within my head. The way magic was paired with heritage. Russian symbology sprinkled throughout every page. It was rich in detail and history; the author’s note at the end explained exactly what was real and what was stretched which I really respect from a historical fiction writer.
Brandes’ tale was the perfect way to give me the happier ending of this tragic tale that I’d always been longing for.
‘The bond of our hearts… spans miles, memories and time.’
Are you a fellow historical fantasy nerd? Have you read Romanov? Feel free to share your ideas/comments/recommendations in the chat below! 🙂