Author: Nadine Brandes
Published By: Thomas Nelson (2019)
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. (Taken from Goodreads)
**I received a complimentary copy of this book from Thomas Nelson through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.**
First Thoughts and Reactions: THANKS NADINE FOR RIPPING MY HEART OUT!
Just when you thought Nadine couldn’t write anything better…. Romanov appears.
Nastya and Maria’s friendship was so heartwarming. Maria was a little hard to get to know in the beginning, but it didn’t take long to fall in love with her character. Maria and Ivan’s relationship was the most precious and sweet thing in the world. Nastya’s father was one of the strongest characters I’ve read about in a long time. The setting was detailed, thorough, and compelling. Brandes nailed the little descriptions, scenes, and what seemed to be insignificant details so perfectly that together, they shaped a bigger and beautiful story.
All the Russian names, though they added significant setting detail to the story, made it harder to keep track of those specific characters. The layout of the Ipatiev House felt difficult at times to picture. In the beginning of the story, I couldn’t figure out how old Alexei was; I first pictured him as a teenager, so then I was thrown off when he started playing with toy soldiers.
A few confusions: Nastya throwing the message out the window felt very counterintuitive and unrealistic; she says, “I couldn’t allow myself to think of the repercussions. Not with something as important as the lives of my family at stake”—but if they catch her throwing the stone, won’t they most definitely kill her family? Her thought process was such a heroic one, yet it confused me; the action risked her family more than anything else so far, yet her family was the very thing she was risking everything trying to protect. Additionally: the scene where Nastya retrieves the doll from Yurcsky’s satchel was difficult to picture and understand.
The arc of the story was phenomenal. Every scene was significant in its own way, building an intricate tale of family, strength, faith, and never giving up. Brandes gently paints a beautiful picture of Christlike love in the hardest of circumstances, all while ripping your heart out and stomping on it. Nastya is a Brandes character through and through—mischievous, smart, and impulsive, but deeply caring and sensitive underneath—so of course I loved her. Her family was sometimes hard to keep track of, mostly because Olga and Tatiana really never got any development, but other than that, the characters were fairly easy to keep straight.
The emotion of the story was powerful and well-shaped, but lacked a little in fleshing out and follow through. Nastya reached her conclusions and revelations fairly quickly, without much time to really chew on different concepts, and while it didn’t feel cheesy, it did feel rushed and underdeveloped at times. For example, her attraction to Zash. While plotted carefully, it lacked the emotional component in the beginning, leaving me as the reader feeling like her attraction popped out of nowhere—even though Nastya claimed to have always liked him. However, considering this was an advance read, and looking at Brandes’ other books, I fully expect that all the emotion will be fleshed out much more fully in the finished product. And in the end, I was one hundred percent rooting for Nastya and Zash.
THE ENDING ACTUALLY KILLED ME. Again, Nastya’s emotions were not completely full and deep, but I actually found the story perfectly paced nonetheless; a harder, more complex emotional storyline at this moment in the plot would have distracted from the point of the story, which was tactfully and heartbreakingly delivered with passion and punch.
Brandes definitely knows how to make her characters and readers suffer. I was locked in these pages from the moment I began reading. It was a fulfilling, thought-provoking, captivating read full of lovable characters and a lot of heartbreak. I can’t wait to read the finished version!
4.5 / 5.0 stars