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Romanov | Nadine Brandes | Review

The history books say I died. They don't know the half of it.

Following the revolution that forced her father's abdication, Anastasia 'Nastya' Romanov and her family, under the watchful eye of Bolshevik soldiers, are exiled to Siberia to await their fate, but Nastya has a secret that just might save them all. With the spell master, Rasputin dead and all other spell masters either working for the Bolsheviks or hiding from them, Nastya is the only one able to use the spells Rasputin taught her to ease her brother's pain, which is why Nastya's father trusts her with their family's final hope - a matryoshka doll given to them by the greatest spell master in Russia. When she needs it most, the doll will reveal a spell to Nastya, but until then she must keep it hidden from the Bolshevik guards.

Nastya knows she can't trust any of the soldiers, even the ones who seem to be kind. She especially can't risk any of them finding out about the matryoshka doll or the spells she uses to help her brother, but there is one guard who does not always act like the others, who sometimes seems as though he might not be the loyal Bolshevik soldier he acts like. Zash has secrets of his own, including a hidden bottle of spell ink and the way he sometimes looks at Nastya. Nastya harbours hope that Zash will prove to be a friend, or perhaps even something more, despite his Bolshevik uniform, but when the firing squad come for Nastya and her family, Nastya is crushed to see Zash holding one of the guns.

The exile and execution of the Romanov family, and the persisting rumours of Anastasia's survival, have been the subject of many stories over the years since the real life event. What Brandes's interpretation brings to this well trodden story is the addition of magic and romance in the young Anastasia's life. Anastasia, or Nastya, as she is known throughout the novel, is, in Brandes's hands, a feisty and stubborn young woman, who cares for her family above everything else. The entire Romanov family are presented in this story as a close-knit and loving family, one who any reader would sympathise with, which makes it all the more upsetting when the inevitable happens, and Nastya and her family must face their execution.

Romanov is a fantastical mix of history and magic, combining a realistic interpretation of the Romanov family's exile with a wild story of spells and spell masters. It feels, upon reading, as though Brandes has done a lot of research into the Romanov family's final weeks, which is perhaps why the first half of this story, which is more heavily based on real events, feels like a slightly different novel than the second half, which definitely takes a turn away from the realistic. This is not a bad thing, it is simply one way in which the two sides of this story play together to present a story for Anastasia Romanov that feels as though it could be true, provided, of course, one accepts that Rasputin really was a spell master and that he taught the young Anastasia a few tricks of his trade before his own execution. 

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Thomas Nelson through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

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