My blood is my crime.
If you look at it, it’s still red. If you touch it, it’s still wet. But if you listen to it, it speaks a single name in a pulsing chant.
Romanov. Romanov. Romanov.
I received a complimentary eARC of this book from Thomas Nelson through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
This book will be released May 7, 2019.
Romanov by Nadine Brandes is a YA historical fiction novel that retells the story of what could’ve happened to Anastasia Romanov and her family during the Russian Revolution in 1917 if magic had been involved.
Anastasia was the youngest daughter of Tsar Nicholas II, the last Emperor of Russia. During the Russian Revolution, her family was taken by the Bolsheviks and exiled to the Russian town, Yekaterinburg. There, Anastasia and her whole family were taken to a cellar and shot. Centuries later, the family’s bodies were exhumed, but Anastasia’s was missing, which led people to believe she had escaped the killings.
I’ve always been fascinated with the Romanov family, particularly Anastasia when everyone thought she had survived the shooting, and all those women claimed to be her. Then there was the FOX animated film, Anastasia, which added a fantastical twist to her story that I greatly enjoyed as a child. While the film is not historically accurate by any means, I still love it today as an adult.
When I saw that Brandes’ Romanov was a mix of two of my favorite things—historical fiction and magic—I couldn’t wait to dive in and see her take on this captivating moment in history.
Unfortunately, this book fell short for me in a lot of ways.
Romanov is told in first-person present tense through the eyes of Anastasia, and while she’s supposed to be sixteen at this point in history, in this book, she sounds and acts like she’s twelve…maybe even ten. There were times when I had to remind myself I was reading a YA and not a Middle Grade book because of the writing and the way Anastasia is portrayed.
“I opened my mouth to protest—how I loved protesting—” (3%).
“My favorite grin slipped out—the one that preceded a particularly fantastic prank” (10%).
“‘I am not lying, Commandant.’ I was so lying” (49%).
This is supposed to be 20th century Russia, but everyone’s mannerisms (especially Anastasia’s) come off as far more modern. They sound like 21st century Americans who happen to know a few Russian words than Russians from the early 1900s.
To add to that frustration is the lack of world-building and setting. This is a historical fiction novel! Where’s 20th century Russia?
In the first chapter, we meet Anastasia or “Nastya” as they call her in the book. She’s burning her diaries. Where? In a bedroom…yep…that’s all you get. Then we’re in an entryway with some Bolsheviks…cool…and a couple pages later you find out she’s been in a cramped house in Tobolsk for a year.
The same thing happens when the family is moved to the Ipatiev House in Yekaterinburg. If you don’t know what or where that is, you’ll have to Google it ’cause you’re not going to get much of a description, which is sad considering 50% of this novel takes place at this house.
I’m not kidding. It’s 50%. Half of this novel is spent with the Romanov’s in exile, hanging out in a room or in a garden, and it is PAINFUL to get through. Not even the unnecessary romantic interest could save this part of the book.
I know the Romanov’s were in exile at Ipatiev for a couple months in real life, but half of a novel doesn’t need to be dedicated to what they did every single day. 25% would’ve been enough to get that part of history across.
At the halfway mark, the Romanov’s meet their fate, and the “magical” part to the story takes over. There’s quite a change in pace when the book switches gears from historical to straight up fiction, but once the author is left to tell her own tale, the story flounders.
For one, the magic system in Romanov doesn’t make sense and is never fully fleshed out. In the beginning, we’re told spell mastery is illegal, and the Bolsheviks are hunting them down, but we never find out why. All we know is the spell masters create spell ink that they then use to craft their “spells,” which are literal words that can only be used once the spell has finished “baking.”
Funnily enough, these spells finish “baking” at the most convenient points in the story, and Anastasia (who hasn’t had any training) just happens to know how to make these spells work.
Another thing I’d like to point out is if the spell masters can only do magic with spell ink, why didn’t the Bolsheviks just destroy all the spell ink instead of spending so much time hunting down the masters? If Anastasia can figure out spell ink with ZERO training, then surely the spell ink is far more dangerous, right?
I’ll let you think about that.
At this point you’re probably wondering if there was any part of this book I liked. Sadly, the answer would be no. Believe me, I’d love to find something positive to say about this book, but honestly, if it weren’t for the fact that Romanov was an ARC,and I wanted to give a proper review before it hit the shelves, I would’ve DNF’d this at chapter five.
That’s right. This novel failed the “Five Chapter Chance” (if you don’t know what that is, check out my post on star ratings here). From the get-go, the world-building and setting lacked in a major way, the characters didn’t fit the time period, and Anastasia sounded way too young. Then, once you make it through the first five chapters, you get an unnecessary romance, 50% of nothing, magic that is never explained, and an unsatisfying ending.
To top all that off, the writing was…not the best.
Now, I know this is an ARC, and the published novel could be vastly different from what I read, but here are some sentences that are just….perplexing…
“I turned the pages at a rate equal to my average reading speed” (7%).
“I wrinkled my nose but scanned with my eyes” (24%).
“Her head shape was elegant and proportionate” (35%).
“Finding him will be like searching for a strawberry in a field of blood” (69%).
Notice the description of someone’s head shape. Somehow we get that and Anastasia’s average reading speed, but 20th century Russia is left to be Googled.
It really is a bummer. This retelling had so much potential, but lacked in execution.
I still have hopes for this book, though. Like I said, an ARC is not the final product, and a lot of what I’ve mentioned could be changed by May.
I give this eARC one out of five stars. I did not enjoy this book. I wanted to DNF this book so many times. There’s just not enough 20th century Russian history in this historical fiction novel, I wasn’t a fan of Anastasia’s character, and the magical twist fell flat.
If this book shows up at my library, I will take a look to see what changes have been made. Who knows? Maybe my rating will change.
What do you think? Am I being too harsh? Let me know down in the comments!