by Nadine Brandes
ebook, Electronic ARC copy from NetGalley, 352 pages
Expected publication: May 7th 2019 by Thomas Nelson
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.
I received an e-arc of this book from Edelweiss Plus in exchange for an honest review
- I love how close the family are to each other. While most royals tend to have complicated relationship with their family (from power struggle, unhappy marriage, to too much meddling), the Romanovs are super close with each other and has a very strong bond. While this starts from their captivity in Tobolsk, at least this part is historically accurate and how the strain of the revolution also strengthen their bond together as a family. In this regard, this book also highlights how the family doted on Alexei. Not because he was the only son and the tsarevich, but because he was family. In return, Alexei also loves and cares for them deeply.
- How it stay true to the historical characterizations. As a book about the Romanovs, this book sure paints the Romanovs in a good light. But in reality, I think this book captures how they were when they were alive. They are down to earth (the servants called them not by title but by name), try to befriend their captures, even grow to care for them. In return, the Bolsheviks guarding them also warmed up to them and saw them as human. Sure, all of them has flaws: Nicholas, while being a good man, is a weak ruler (it’s true), Alexandra was haughty and proud, and the children can be reckless at times. But they are family that had fell far from grace and within their captivity, they still managed to be polite and friendly- I think it shows the other side of their story other than what the Bolsheviks painted on history. I’m really glad that Romanovs manages to capture this side of history, the side that paints them as more than spoiled monarch but also as human beings.
- The atmosphere and setting in this book are captured really well. The author managed to make me feel as if I was part of their exile; feeling their boredom and hopefulness, as well as their desperation and fear really well.
What Didn’t Work
- The story is really boring. This is partly because the first half of Romanovs set during their captivity, where they are stuck inside the house except during their garden time and they are isolated from the outside world. However, I also expected magic to play a huge part in the story but sadly, they are severely lacking. It is a major plot device, but only in mentions without actual magical action. The system and the action itself are not elaborated and I felt it was really mundane.
- The pacing is really slow. While I love how historically accurate the first half of the book was, it felt like it dragged forever. Meanwhile, the second half felt really rushed and as the result, I am left unsatisfied with many of the characters choices.
- I thought I would have enjoyed the romance as it sounds like a totally “me” story. Again, I was left severely disappointed as I don’t feel like they are developed properly. I can’t feel their chemistry- honestly, their romance moved in lightning speed and they feel like they are together due to circumstances rather than genuine attraction.
- The villain is underdeveloped. I was hoping we would know more about his motivations at the end, why he did what he did. But we got nothing, not even cliche expectations. It really frustrates me because it’s one of the few things I look forward to at the end of this book.
- Context and knowledge on history of the events surrounding the story is important, and this book doesn’t really give it. This is because not everyone is familiar about Rasputin, the revolution, as well as why other European monarch did not try to save them. And as I mentioned, Nikolai was a weak tsar. Yes, he was a great person and a family man through and through, but to rule a country, you need more than that. He had no military experience, which led to Russia’s many defeats around WW1. His father (the previous tsar) also refused to educate him on state matters early as he believed Nikolai still have years before he will became tsar (he didn’t, he died a few years later leaving young, inexperienced Nikolai to be tsar). While the family may care for the people, they don’t know their subject well and quite detached from them. To complicate the matter, there’s the whole Alexei, Alexandra, and Rasputin issue. While I’m not asking Romanovs to provide a history lesson, I wished the first half of the book can contain more information about the events rather than their dreary routine.
As one of the imperial families, the tragic story of the Romanovs continues to intrigues and captures the attention of many, more than a century after it happened. With a lot of historical accuracies in terms of characterizations and events prior to the execution, Romanovs is an interesting way to tell the story to the world. However, as a fiction, with its slow pacing, lack of magic, rushed romance, and underdeveloped romance, this book fails to meet my expectations. The lack of context and knowledge around the issue might also create misunderstanding and reduce the enjoyment of other readers. Overall, this book didn’t meet my expectations but it might still work for others.