I’ve always loved the Anastasia animated film, but I was never content with how much the story was changed from the actual historic events. Almost any book about the Romanov family fascinates me, so Nadine Brandes’ Romanov caught my attention. A historically accurate retelling from Anastasia’s point of view, Romanov adds a dash of magic and a few “what if” questions to bring a more hopeful ending.
When her family is forced into captivity, Anastasia “Nastya” Romanov is given a mission by her father: smuggle an ancient spell into her suitcase. But a leader of the Bolshevik army is determined to hunt down any traces of magic and destroy them. While in captivity, Nastya has two choices: release the spell or enlist the help of a Bolshevik soldier, Zash. Both choices could have dangerous consequences, but as the White Army approaches, tensions rise and Nastya must make her choice or risk losing her family forever.
Romanov is historically accurate as possible while also changing the ending slightly to answer the “What if some of them did survive?” question. A large chunk of the story is focused on their time in captivity and their uncertainty of who to trust and what to do. Some aspects of this are slower as Nastya is observing the Bolshevik soldiers and trying to determine when to use her magic. The latter half of the book picks up on the action as Nastya and her brother, Alexei, must flee from the Bolsheviks and find someone who can help them survive.
At first, the magic was hard to grasp, and I still wish there was a bigger explanation of how it all worked, but I like how Nadine weaves the magic system within the larger picture of Russian history, especially connecting to Rasputin and the Matryoshka dolls. I also like the family dynamics, especially Nastya’s relationship with Alexei. This story depicts a much different version of Anastasia than what the animated film depicts, so it was fun to learn about her more mischievous side.
I’m not a Romanov history expert, so I trust Nadine did her research and wrote this story to the best of her ability and interpretation of the events that conspired. Yes, the ending changes, hinging on the fact that two of the Romanovs were buried in a different grave than the rest of the family. But for the most part, the story follows the actual events of the Romanov family in captivity. These fine details bring the story to life in a way I’ve never heard before.
What I appreciate the most about Romanov, though, is that the story focuses on the idea that there are two sides to every story. There’s Anastasia and her family’s story, their belief they are innocent and their father is loyal to his people. But then there’s also the story of the Bolshevik soldiers and their belief that Nikolai failed as a leader and that magic is ruining the country. Both sides are explored, and both sides shift in order to see from the other perspective. The world is not black and white, both sides have valid points to what they believe, and everybody is human. I think Romanov does a good job coming to terms with the idea that maybe what you’ve been taught your whole life isn’t right but it’s not necessarily 100% wrong either. It’s just not the whole story.
Romanov is a compelling historical fantasy that gives hope to an otherwise bleak outcome and succeeds in depicting the attitude and thoughts of Anastasia during her captivity. If you enjoyed Fawkes by Nadine Brandes or are interested in the Romanov family, I would recommend reading this book.