Romanov by Nadine Brandes: A Review

by Katie Moran

“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.”

Every so often, we are gifted novels that stroll through time, resurrecting a forgotten moment, place, or person. These novels do the work of bridging the distance between now and then for young readers. Nadine Brandes has written such a book. Her newest novel, Romanov, speaks to her command of history and of storytelling.

Brandes balances the historic, biographic, and fantastical elements at the heart of this story with a dexterity that demonstrates an intimate familiarity with the subject. The reimagined events of the Romanov family’s demise adheres to just enough of the truth and veers just far enough away to capture the reader. The story is not without the brutality of history’s truth, but there is a whisper of hope that transforms this into a gripping tale of possibility. Nadine Brandes has posed the question, what if history was wrong, what if the stories and accounts aren’t the entirety of it? And what a wonderful conundrum to speculate on. Romanov gives us the opportunity to pause and muse about what really happened, about whether or not all that we read in textbooks is entirely truthful. 

The characters of Romanov are complex, well-constructed representations of the best and worst of Russia’s history. Brandes has accounted for so much of the real in her fictional novel that the introduction of the fantastical went almost unnoticed; it felt entirely believable because of the sound craftmanship and subtlety in her work. The tension between the White Army and the Bolshevik Army is gripping from start to finish, the uncertainty of what will happen next guiding the turn of every page. The humanization of this infamous family is so deftly done, readers will find themselves cursing the family’s circumstance and encouraging them to rally through their hardship.

Historical fiction often falls into the trap of restating facts–things we already know–which can lead to a story that falls flat. Romanov certainly does the opposite; this reimagined history, with a fantastical lean, is a rousing success through and through.