Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my review in any way and the thoughts expressed are my own.
I absolutely loved the Anastasia movie as a child and was intrigued by this new adaption of the sad story of the Russian royal family. Set in a world much like ours that is filled with magic harnessed by Spell Masters and their spell ink. But the Romanov’s have a secret; they are tasked with protecting a Matryoshka doll that contains the most powerful spells in the world. Now with the revolution, the family exiled to the furthest reaches of Russia and anything relating to magic being hunted down, the Romanovs and the doll is in more danger than ever.
Nastya – aka Anastasia – is close to her family, especially her father and younger brother, Alexei, who suffers from haemophilia, a life-threatening disease that must be kept a secret from the nation. Nastya is a mischief-maker, nicknamed The Imp, and does her best to subtly rebel against the soldiers whilst bringing amusement to those she loves. They have always been a close family yet being under strict house arrest has made their support for each other all the stronger.
Taking all this into consideration it feels strange that after her family’s deaths Nastya grieves little – only really at the beginning. And while I admit that this is highly due to the fact that she expects to be able to resurrect her family, it still seems unrealistic that when this becomes increasing harder she still doesn’t begin to mourn. Added to this is the fact that her grief is almost all focused on the loss of her father with little towards her mother and sisters. Considering that she had several sisters and that she had few to no friends which would have made her sisters the closest things she had to friends, it is even more flawed that she wouldn’t be mourning their loss. And on top of all this, she didn’t just loose her parents or a few sisters but several people all at once, it would be expected that she should be devasted, hardly able to function or think. And yes, having a goal can help you soldier on, her grief should continue to pop up throughout her journey, especially during the final chapters.
The main love story is between Nastya and Zash, a young guard charged with helping imprison the royal family. If you love a slow burn, then their romance is definitely for you. Initially, they can’t be together due to the harsh punishments that would befall both of them and their family. I enjoyed that there was a legitimate reason for them not to give in to their feelings. And I appreciated how drawn out their relationship was, especially after all the traumatic events they have gone through.
This fantasy had an alright magic system, with magic being harnessed through Masters using a special tool, spell ink. Magic is thought of as rare and prized or thought of as evil and selfish. While I have read good versions of this style of magic system, I just didn’t ‘click’ with this one. I don’t know if it was other issues I had with the book or what, but I just didn’t find this system as interesting as I usually do.
On the other hand, I did enjoy how the author mixed real-world historical events set in Russia and fantasy to create an interesting and unique world. I was intrigued to see if and/or how the story would follow history and what different avenues it would take.
My biggest problem with this book was that the blurb gave away over half of the story and made the entire first half feel pointless. Regardless of whether or not you know about the real-life Romanovs, their tragic end and the Russian revolution, a fantasy book based on these is bound to have some obvious points as well as surprises. But the blurb simply stated what happened in the first half, making it feel like the story should have started after this point. Largely due to this fact I found the novel slow, dull and with little to keep me intrigued and took over two months to get through the beginning (partially because of moving house, study schedule and work). I expected the end to have a good twist to make it all worthwhile but sadly I found the ending dissatisfying. While some people may have totally enjoyed the final chapters, my issue was with the resolution around the villain who felt almost undealt with. I did enjoy the fate of our main troupe of characters and found it was a good arc for each of them.
This was one of my most anticipated reads and if I hadn’t been so excited I probably would have enjoyed it more. I am absolutely certain though that if the author/ publisher simply fixed the blurb it would have been way more engaging and intriguing (after all you don’t know what will happen; will it follow history or does the author has something else in mind?). While my review may sound like I found it a terrible book, I didn’t. I was simply disappointed by a book I had expected to be very good (there’s hundreds of modern fairy-tale retellings but almost none on the Romanovs in a fantasy world). I give it 3/5 and cannot stress highly enough that if you want to read it, do not read the blurb and the bit of my review I have marked as a spoiler.