Important Background Info:
Romanov is historical fantasy fiction written by Nadine Brandes. It’s set in 1918 Russia during the Bolshevik Revolution, and follows the story of Anastasia (Nastya) Romanov, during the exile and execution of her family. After she and her brother, Alexei, are saved by a spell, it becomes a life or death race to find Dochkin before Alexei succumbs to his wounds.
Nadine Brandes weaves together several different fictional and historical threads to accomplish a masterful fugue.
Please note that this is a young adult novel, and, though considered a “clean” young adult novel, is probably not suitable for children due to the content described below:
What I liked:
Nastya struggles with forgiveness in a very real way. It takes her a long time to be able to forgive her captors and the executors of her family. She longs for something to make the pain go away, and when they find Dochkin (a spell master), he gives her a spell that will erase her memories and allow her to live pain-free. She wrestles with whether or not it’s right for her to use it. She know it would make her pain-free, but it also means she wouldn’t have to forgive and she’d be leaving others to fix the problems by themselves. When they finally capture Yurovsky (their chief tormentor), she’s able to forgive him and ends up using the spell on him as an act of mercy.
The Romanov family is close, and they love each other dearly. It’s seen in the servant leadership of their Papa, the way the sisters work to support each other, how hard they work to keep Alexi and Mamma comfortable (both are sick), the sacrifices they make for each other, and the way they work hard to have a good life and to be positive despite what they’re going through.
In spite of the struggles Alexi goes through because of his hemophilia, he maintains a positive attitude. He likes to tease Nastya about who he thinks likes her in a little-brotherish way, which made me laugh.
Papa is a wonderful role model for his family, encouraging them to be kind to the Bolsheviks and forgive them. The Romanov’s repeatedly make friends with the soldiers who are guarding them.
I thought the magic system using ink and words was cool.
This wasn’t my favorite of Nadine Brandes” books – The Out of Time Trilogy is my favorite because of it’s depth and story, but I enjoyed Romanov. You can really see Nastya grow throughout the story to be a better person at the end. Nadine Brandes shines in character arcs!
Content Concerns/Things to know:
Please note that I read laser focused on looking for content concerns so that I can write this review. It’s going to seem like there are a lot, but often they’re incredibly easy to gloss over or miss, and they’re not as concerning within the context of the story.
The Romanov family believes in Christ, and they show it through their actions. They try to reflect Christ’s love to the Bolsheviks who have them imprisoned. When the Romanov’s receive messages about a rescue, they call it off after realizing it might harm the Bolsheviks who are imprisoning them. They read the Bible, and Nastya remembers scripture when conflicted about how to treat their enemies. She prays a lot, knowing that Christ hears her.
Nastya says it’s a bad omen to leave a Dostoevsky book behind in an effort to get her sister to bring it with.
Deeply woven through the book is a form of magic known as spell mastery. It’s words combine with an ink that makes things happen, such as healing, or relief, etc. There is one that allows people to leave and then return to their bodies. It’s not done in a creepy or evil way.
Rasputin was said to have used an uncommon magic that allowed him to channel a person’s health into someone else.
There’s a couple of definitive love stories in the books, with one serving as a second plot. It doesn’t get any worse than kissing, but there is definitive kissing and flirting. For example, falling off a swing to be caught by the person you like, banter, etc..
Maria and Nastya talk about how some of the soldiers are handsome (typical girl talk). They joke about how their “stunning figures would be too good a death for them.”
Alexi is told being carried on a stretcher should only be humiliating if it’s through a party of young girls. He jokes that the one girl who doesn’t snicker at him and can make a pastry would be his tsarina. Zash tells him, “May you dream of non-giddy girls with their arms full of Vatrushka.” When Alexi pointedly asks what type of girl would win his favor, he replies, “I only accept advances from ex-princesses. Particularly bald ones.”
Nastya hides the Matryoshka doll down her corset, and there’s a bit of explanation of how she isn’t big enough to properly hide things there. A couple of times when she is searched, it’s mentioned that that’s one advantage of being a girl – having a hiding place because people don’t search there.
Mama asks Nastya if the soldiers have been keeping their hands to themselves, and Yurosky (when hunting for an incredibly powerful spell that would allow him to find and kill one of the last spell masters on earth) threatens to call a guard to tear off Nastya’s clothing to find the spell. Fortunately, this doesn’t happen. He also takes the Matryoshka doll from Nastya.
One of the soldiers insinuates that Rasputin was always at the palace with Mama Romanov because they were being unfaithful… It’s revealed that it’s because Alexi was so sick, and Rasputin used an uncommon type of magic that allowed him to channel Mama’s health into Alexi so he wouldn’t die.
It’s insinuated that a lot of people are executed by the Bolsheviks, as the Romanov family repeatedly hears gun shots outside their prison. We’re told each shot is an execution. The Romanov family receives death threats, and Nastya is shot at when she opens a window.
Alexi has hemophilia, and he bruises and injures easily and is almost always in pain. That coupled with being imprisoned makes him despair somewhat, and it’s mentioned that he might have wished he wouldn’t survive tobogganing down the stairs.
The Bolsheviks execute a solider who falls in love with Maria Romanov, “off screen”, but we do “hear” it happen as if we’re in the next room.
The Bolsheviks execute the entire Romanov family, except for Nastya and Alexi, who are saved by a spell and jewelry sewn into clothes. It’s “on screen” so to speak, and, while not too graphic, it’s definitely intense. It describes what’s happening and the blood and pain and screaming etc. A lot of the focus is on Nastya’s emotions. The Bolsheviks then dump acid all over their family’s bodies after stripping them and dumping them in a mineshaft, but fortunately that part isn’t done in much detail.
One of the Bolsheviks almost kills himself because he feels so guilty about the execution. Fortunately, he is stopped.
He chose to take part because he was terrified into not thinking straight and, he thought it might bring some comfort to be shot by someone who wasn’t doing it out of malice. Again, he wasn’t thinking straight due to death threats.
Several nasty injuries occur, and Nastya sews up a spear wound. Yurovsky shoots Zash in the shoulder. A solider has an unfortunate run-in with the wheels of a train, and Nastya shoots at Yurovsky and hits his horse. Yurovsky kills Zash’s babushka for helping them.
When Zash, Nastya and Alexi finally find Dochkin (the spell master they were searching for who would be able to help them), Yurovsky came along, and unfortunately, does a lot of damage. He manages to shoot Alexi twice more before they even get to Dochkin’s house, and then once there ensues another rather intense scene where he cuts Dochkin’s neck; he almost kills everyone else in his murderous fervor. When Nastya fights Yurovsky to try and save everyone’s life, she knives him in the eye. There’s a lot of blood, and it’s rather intense.
Zash almost shoots Yuovsky but can’t bring himself to do it.
Nothing, really – it’s mentioned that soldiers have scribbled rude political comments on the wall and that they yell profanities at them. Not expounded on in any detail.
Other things to know:
Nastya is mischievous (her nickname is Shvibzik – Russian for imp) and loves to pull pranks on people, such as sticking eggs in the boots of Bolshevik soldiers. Sometimes it gets her into trouble, but she does it to try and lift people’s spirits or to help her family.
Sometimes Nastya lies to soldiers in order to keep a spell safe or her family safe.
Alcohol is prevalent, as they’re in Russia. Characters drink. The only character who gets actually drunk is Andeev, but he’s usually drunk or tipsy when he’s in a scene.
It’s mentioned that Alexi and Mamma use morphine as medicine, and it’s mentioned that some soldiers smoke.
Romanov isn’t my favorite of Nadine Brandes’s books – that honor goes to the Out of Time Trilogy. It’s not my favorite book in the world – the story isn’t terribly full of depth (though the more times I read it, the more depth I see in it), and there are some definite intense moments, but I enjoyed the book. Nadine Brandes shines in character arcs, and Nastya Romanov’s character arc was amazing. She grew, but it wasn’t easy. She wrestled with forgiveness in a real way, and it was neat to read about. I also thoroughly enjoyed their family bond and the way the siblings really cared for each other. As they say, “The bond of our hearts spans miles, memory and time.” It was also a very easy world to enter into as you were reading.
Did you read Romanov? Let me know in the comments!
When Papa tells Nastya to get the Matryoshka doll with the spell that could save them but is also illegal, Nastya thinks that she likes forbidden things. When could this phrase mean something good and when does it mean something bad?
Papa constantly stresses treating their captors with love and kindness. Why? Would you be able to do this?
Nastya wrestles with forgiving their captors and executors, but eventually does. What made her able to finally forgive?
After hurting himself, with no hope of rescue from exile, Alexi wonders aloud about what reason there is to live. What does the Bible say about our purpose?
Do you think the decision to let Yurovsky go was the right decision? Why or why not?
Why do you think Maria and Ivan formed a relationship so quickly? Do you think this was good or bad?
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Taken from amazon, but you can visit the author’s website here.
“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 saving herself and her family are either to release the spell and deal with the consequences, or to enlist help from Zash, the handsome soldier who doesn’t act like the average Bolshevik. Nastya has only dabbled in magic, but it doesn’t frighten her half as much as her growing attraction to 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.”