Most have heard the story of the Romanov family, but Brandes promises a new interpretation. Romanov depicts the famous tale of Anastasia Romanova’s time in exile after the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917….but with a magical twist. While in exile, her father, Tsar Nicholas II, gives Anastasia (known as Nastya throughout the novel) the mission of smuggling an ancient spell out of Tobolsk to Ekaterinburg, where her family is to live out their lives in exile. The spell, according to Nicholas, is the Romanov family’s “salvation” after they are captured by the Bolsheviks (or Red Army).
In Brandes’s re-imagination of the famous Romanov tale, the Bolsheviks are fighting to eradicate spell masters— people with the ability to create and manipulate spells. Prior to exile, Nastya’s family had close ties to the well-known spell master, Rasputin, who was believed to be corrupting Tsar Nicholas II and his family. In the eyes of the Bolsheviks, the Romanovs were puppets of evil that should be removed from power.
Nastya is given strict instructions by her father: only open the Matryoshka doll, which houses the spell, at the very last moment. The only problem? Nastya has no idea when her family will be moved again, if they will be rescued by the White Army loyal to her father, or if they will die in captivity.
While living in Siberia, Nastya meets Zash, a Bolshevik who may not be as loyal to the Bolshevik cause as he thought. They quickly form a close friendship, and Zash finds himself helping Nastya despite his better judgement. After Nastya and her family— along with their remaining servants— are moved to Ekaterinburg, she knows they have limited time. While in Ekaterinburg, Nastya and her sister Maria grow closer (and perhaps too close) to Zash and another Bolshevik soldier named Ivan. The clock is ticking for Nastya and her family: if they are not rescued soon, they will likely die in exile.
When the Bolshevik’s decide to execute the Romanovs, Nastya is shocked to find that her executioner is none other than Zash. Despite all odds, Nastya and her weakened brother, Alexei, survive, making them the Romanov family’s last hope for salvation. The back half of the story follows Nastya on her journey to save herself, and her family, from uncertain destruction. She goes on a quest to find Russia’s most powerful spell master with the hope that he can restore time and prevent her family’s murders.
Overall, we thoroughly enjoyed this book! As history buffs, we did take issue with the manipulation of historical events (the Tsar was in fact an incompetent leader, not the saint Brandes makes him out to be in the book), but we could deal with the discrepancies for the sake of plot development. It’s clear the author never intended this story to be historically accurate, so if you go into reading the book knowing this fact, you will enjoy it that much more!
One great thing about this book was getting a glimpse into the plight of the Romanov family. We could tell that Brandes did her research on the royal family and their servants. All of the characters were pretty well flushed out and we enjoyed Nastya’s charm and wit. Fun tip: go ahead and do some research on the Romanov family after finishing the book (even Wikipedia will do!). You will find that certain mannerisms and stories about Anastasia were woven into the plot. We like it when authors focus on the minor details, and Brandes did just that!
Be warned: this is not a romance heavy book. There is definitely romance throughout the novel, but it is a slow burn— which, in our opinion, is more believable since Zash was technically one of Nastya’s captors. We will admit that the romance between Ivan and Maria— Nastya’s sister— was annoying at times. They both made some stupid decisions that were cringe-worthy. We also took issue with how quickly Nastya forgave Zash for his transgressions, but this was a minor blip for us. In all, the story tied together nicely and the magical touches throughout the book were entertaining.