Author: Nadine Brandes
Genre: Young Adult, Historical Fiction mixed with Fantasy, Russia, Disappearance of Anastasia daughter of Tsar Nicholas II, Imagined History
Blurb from Goodreads
My name is Anastasia . . . 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 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.
I struggled with this book for a full five days.
I could never truly empathise with the characters because the prose felt so stilted… but more than that I could not reconcile the mix of historical fact with historical fantasy.
This review assumes that you know what happened to Tsar Nicholas II and his family including his much talked about daughter Anastasia and their closest staff. If you are not familiar with the story then this review could be said to be filled with spoilers.
The real story of what happened to the Romanov family in July 1918 made me feel so unsettled. I think this is a personal thing. I’m not one for those reconstructed lives style documentaries so that we can understand the last days and hours of a victim’s / victims’ lives. So I felt uncomfortable reading about how this family tried to get through what ultimately were their last days.
Perhaps if the author had imbued this story with more emotion… at one stage after the family’s execution surviving daughter Nastya (Anastasia) mentioned her sister Olga and I thought to myself wow, I’d forgotten that Olga exists because she was barely mentioned. A few chapters previous to that I thought the same thing about Tatiana.
So to me the book lacked in truly bringing those characters to life. It focussed very much on Anastasia (it’s from her PoV), brother Alexei and sister Maria but even with the focus on these three I still struggled to feel like these were real characters.
I do wonder if the author has a similar problem to my own. That in trying to do justice to the real people and what they truly went through she found herself creating characters that were rather one dimensional in the sense that she didn’t want to write them with flaws. Every one of the Romanovs were good and kind…and maybe they were truly wonderful as they are revered in the Russian Orthodox Church as passion bearers… but to me it didn’t work for a historical fiction / fantasy. I would much rather have read a purely factual account of these people’s lives and I know I would have then had a deeper connection and empathy for them.
The inclusion of the character of Zash as a love interest for Nastya didn’t work for me. I thought it detracted from the historically accurate attraction that occurred between Maria and a Bolshevik named Ivan during their captivity.
I think overall this book just severely lacked in its character development and ultimately I was bored which seems to be a very harsh thing to say when roughly half of the book is about actual historical events. So by the time the book moved to the completely fictionalised second half post execution it was too late for me to feel invested in the outcome.