There really isn’t any introduction necessary to explain why I wanted to read this book. It has: A) a gorgeous cover, B) magic, and C) it’s about Anastasia Romanov. I think everyone around my age grew up loving the often-confused-for-Disney movie Anastasia and has since loved everything related to her. To NetGalley and the publisher: thank you for the ARC in exchange for an honest review!
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.
Despite my love for the premise of this story, this book did not meet my expectations.
The characterization was pretty good. I liked that Anastasia “Nastya” was spunky and mischievous. Her relationship with her father was sweet and I loved that he encouraged her to be a free-spirited girl. I’ve seen many complaints about the Tsar not being written accurately but, guys, it’s fiction! I liked that he was portrayed as sympathetic to his people, strong-willed, smart, and a caring father. It worked so well with the plot and made me feel very sympathetic to their predicament (also called exile, but whatever). Nastya’s brother Alexi was also pretty well-written. I enjoyed his strong nature despite his medical ailments. The rest of the Romanov family was written nicely to complement the plot and other characters.
A character group that I really enjoyed was the guards. I found it so interesting that the Romanovs pseudo-befriended many of the guards. Obviously we were supposed to get close to Ivan and Tash, but I also liked the general message that enemies can find common ground. On a darker note, it also demonstrates that people will do terrible things when placed in a position of soldier who must obey his orders. I also liked that the author included some real historical figures that guarded the Romanovs- it was really fascinating to learn more about them later.
I’m writing this a few weeks after reading the book and I still don’t know how I feel about Tash. I don’t want to give anything away, so I’ll keep this as vague as I can. I think I would have liked him more if we were given some POV chapters. I felt sympathetic about his predicament but couldn’t really empathize with him throughout most of the novel. Without POV chapters I thought he was a pretty weak character who was more an idea of a character than an actual character.
The plot itself was pretty interesting. Although the first half of the book was a bit slow-paced I enjoyed the characters, the exploration of the setting, and the historical bits and pieces I learned. The second half of the book was more action-packed and covered more of the fantasy elements. Some of the scenes were pretty unbelievable (discounting the magic) but so are most of the scenes in action movies, so I don’t discredit the author for that.
The author did a good amount of research, and after finishing the book I did more independent research to see what parts of the book were pure fiction and what parts were rooted in history. I’m thankful that this read more as a historical fantasy than non-fiction book. It went with what I already knew about the Romanovs but added magic and a bit more intrigue, which I didn’t think was possible.
The biggest thing I disliked about Romanov was the magic system. I love books about magic and the concept of this world’s magic is really interesting. Unfortunately, it was not executed (poor choice of words, sorry) well at all. I was so confused about how their magic was supposed to work, the role it played in politics and society, and how it personally related to the characters. It was explained a bit more at the end but the reader shouldn’t have to struggle through a fantasy book without understanding the fantasy element until the end! It just doesn’t work that way!
I understand that Nastya didn’t really understand magic either, and seeing as the book is from her POV, this can be an issue. But still, some general explanation of how the magic worked would have been really appreciated. For example, at the beginning we get a scene where Nastya is using magic. She needs to use specific spell ink, which I understood, but then the words physically manifest and enter her mouth? It took me a ridiculous amount of time to realize she wasn’t being metaphorical and that the words were actually coming alive under her fingertips and the power was actually inside her. So confusing. And we never really got an explanation for the magic.
I was not happy. I am not happy. This magic could have been so cool and imaginative but it fell so flat.
I really loved the idea of this book more than the book itself. The possibilities were amazing and the book was average. I’m glad that reading it led me to learn more about the true story of the Romanovs but the book just made me sad that it wasn’t better. Would I recommend it? Not really. Do I regret reading it? Not really. My whole attitude toward this book is entirely “meh”. This might be a good book to read if you’re looking for a way to ease into historical fiction or you’re recovering from a book hangover. If you’re looking for something as great as Anastasia, look elsewhere.