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The Curse of the Romanovs
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The Curse of the Romanovs

3.8 7
by Staton Rabin

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Alexei Romanov, heir to the Russian throne, is in deadly danger.

It's 1916, the struggling Russian people are tired of war and are blaming their Romanov rulers for it, and some are secretly plotting to murder the young heir and his family. But nobody outside the palace knows that Alexei suffers from a terrible bleeding disease, hemophilia, which threatens


Alexei Romanov, heir to the Russian throne, is in deadly danger.

It's 1916, the struggling Russian people are tired of war and are blaming their Romanov rulers for it, and some are secretly plotting to murder the young heir and his family. But nobody outside the palace knows that Alexei suffers from a terrible bleeding disease, hemophilia, which threatens to finish him off even before the family's enemies can. The only person able to help Alexei is the evil and powerful religious mystic Rasputin — and now Rasputin is trying to kill him too! Desperate, Alexei flees through time to New York City in 2010, using a method taught to him by the mad monk himself.

In New York, Alexei meets smart and sassy Varda Rosenberg, and discovers she is a distant cousin. Varda is working on a gene therapy cure for hemophilia, as the disease still runs in the family. When Alexei learns that history shows that his entire family will be assassinated in 1918, he and Varda travel back in time to the Russian Revolution, with Rasputin hot on their heels. Will they be able to rescue Alexei's family before it's too late?

Staton Rabin lets Alexei tell his own riveting story in a rousing adventure with stunning surprises — a movingly authentic look at royalty and revolution in the days of the tsars.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Š(A) fine historical time-travel adventure—This is a great trip for lovers of historical fiction." —Publishers Weekly
Publishers Weekly

Rabin's story takes a while to hit its stride, but once it does it becomes a fine historical time-travel adventure. The year is 1916 and 12-year-old Alexei Romanov is the last heir to the Russian throne; he is also a hemophiliac, kept under lock and key by his reigning parents and given unconventional medical treatments by the "Mad Monk" Rasputin. The monk's dark side emerges, and he is killed for his treachery. But he doesn't stay dead, returning to attack Alexei; when the young heir awakens, he finds himself in New York in the year 2010, where he meets 15-year-old Varda, a young scientist working on a cure for hemophilia. While attending school with Varda, Alexei learns that his whole family will be killed in 1918; the increasingly frightening Rasputin turns up in New York, too, and Alexei and Varda jump back to 1918, just days prior to the execution of the royal family. There are only a few moments of fish-out-of-water humor, but they are priceless, if perhaps dated for the year 2010. ("Captain Underpants? Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants? Lots of pants. Rich Dad, Poor Dad. That one must be about revolution," Alexei quips.) The book ends with a clever twist explaining why Alexei's bones were never found and features a lengthy set of endnotes about Russian history, the Romanov family and hemophilia. This is a great trip for lovers of historical fiction. Ages 12-up. (July)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Children's Literature - Kathryn Erskine
This fascinating novel of time travel between the Russian Revolution and modern day New York City is gripping from start to finish. The intriguingly ominous voice mirrors the fatalistic tenor of the Romanovs themselves, who bear their imperial burden with stoic, if misguided, grace. Rabin uses the blood line, literally, to tie young hemophiliac Alexei Romanov, heir to the Russian throne, to a contemporary teenager researching a cure for hemophilia after the disease took her father. The dialog and relationship between the two young teens is natural and often funny, but the urgency is always there—to escape the frightening Rasputin, to keep Alexei healthy, to find the Romanov family—and the story's excitement and fast pace make it a quick read. Readers will find themselves effortlessly learning about the Romanovs, hemophilia, and the Russian Revolution. Rabin puts a human face on the doomed royal family and it is hard not to feel the terror of their final hours. Historical notes at the end flesh out the story.
Lauren Marston
Are you obsessed with the rich and famous? Ever wondered what life would be like if you became one of the most powerful people in the world? Rabin's innovative creation takes the reader inside the secret lives of the Romanov family. The heart-wrenching story of the royal family is creatively retold through the eyes of the 12-year-old future tsar of Russia, Alexei Romanov. From his point of view, the reader gets an unexpected and surprising look at the events that led up to the murders of the Tsar and his family. Alexei tells of his struggles with hemophilia and describes his fears and excitement at becoming the future leader of Russia. While at times the bizarre plot and abundance of difficult language was distracting, Rabin succeeds in entertaining the reader by modernizing history. This book is a challenging historical read which younger adolescents would enjoy. Reviewer: Lauren Marston
VOYA - Michele Winship
The end of the Romanov dynasty in Russia has intrigued scholars and history buffs for decades. The murder of Nicholas II and his family and the more recent discovery of their DNA-identified remains create a mystery whose solution is still under debate. Did Alexei Romanov and one of his sisters, whose remains were not found, survive the massacre? Rabin answers this question through a blend of historical fiction and fantasy, as the young Alexei discovers a means to travel through time, from 1916 to 2010, where he finds a distant cousin in New York who joins him in his quest to save his family from their fate. Told through Alexei's point of view, the first half of the book gives readers an insider's look at Imperial Russia and life at the onset of the Russian Revolution. Most fascinating is the character of Rasputin, another figure that history has marked with magic and mystery. Rabin takes liberties with the apparent "immortality" of Rasputin after several failed attempts to murder him and brings him all the way into the future in a rather surprising role. Rabin has taken care to research the accuracy of historical facts, but the book is truly a work of fiction. Readers who wish to know how fact differs from fiction can find explanations in the Author's Notes, as well as a detailed list of sources for further reading.
School Library Journal

Gr 6-8
Historical fiction, fantasy, and horror are woven together with hints of sex and romance in this improbable story of Alexei, the last heir to the throne of Russia. Tsarevich Alexei suffers from hemophilia, and his frequent bouts with this painful disease often bring him to death's door. Fortunately Father Grigory, otherwise known as Rasputin, using horrifying hocus pocus, has been able to save him. In one of his cures, he tells Alexei that his "blood-river" can move him back and forth in time and place, a useful bit of knowledge. After Alexei secretly sees Rasputin intimidating the tsarina, he confides in a relative who makes an assassination attempt-Rasputin is poisoned, shot, declared dead, and thrown into a river. Unfortunately the dead man climbs out of the river and chases Alexei, who tries the trick of time travel and ends up in one of New York City's rivers in 2010. He's resuscitated on the riverbank by a future relative, a high school girl who just happens to be researching hemophilia. Of course, Rasputin appears as the high school janitor and the story lurches on. Everyone time travels back to Russia where Rasputin is finally killed, and Alexei and his future relative attempt to rescue the royal family, now imprisoned. It's all too much. In the end, history kind of takes over, but not quite. Except for Alexei, the characters are flat, the writing confusing and clunky, and the plot more suited to a genre movie than a book. Clearly the author did a great deal of research; the end matter is copious and interesting.
—Barbara ScottoCopyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Kirkus Reviews
A time slip/alternate history/horror/romance, told in the first person by the hemophiliac Alexei Romanov, son of Czar Nicholas. Alexei is not only caught in the ever-tightening web surrounding his parents and four sisters in the time of the Revolution, but is fiercely guarded, as any bruise or injury could be fatal. He is also under the spell and care of Father Grigory-Rasputin. Alexei is young and imperious but smart and very frightened: He believes Grigory has mystical powers, and he believes Rasputin might be his father. It's the power of blood that leads Alexei to the year 2010 in New York City, where a distant young cousin named Varda travels back in time with him in hopes of saving his family. A cell phone magically works in 1918; Rasputin is killed and not killed; the royal family is assassinated; Varda meets a 106-year-old Russian man with Alexei's beautiful eyes. This is not only confusing but not at all compelling. Rabin provides extensive historical notes on what is known and what isn't, but the telling isn't strong enough to make readers care. (notes, bibliography) (Historical fiction. 12-14)

Product Details

Margaret K. McElderry Books
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.10(d)
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt


Spala, Poland, 1912

(Four years ago)

"Mama! mama! — it hurts! Please, God! Mama, come kill me!"

Three hundred years of my dead Romanov relatives crowded around my bedside, staring into my bloodless pale face, wagging their ghostly heads with concern. Great-grandpa Alexander — missing a leg from the assassin's bomb — held out his bloody arms to me in welcome. Peter the Great beckoned slowly, slowly, inviting me into the land of death. There was Ivan the Terrible, a pointy-toothed skull, grinning as if he'd love my company — in hell. "Yes, Alyosha," he hissed into my ear. "Wouldn't it be better for all to just let go? Your poor mother's hair is turning gray. Your father worries, your sisters, too. Just let go. It's so easy. So easy..."

My eyes grew heavy. The icon lamps around my bed flickered and faded. The light within my heart was flickering, fading, too. Why, why didn't they call Our Friend in time to save me? Why? Where are you, Father Grigory! So tired, so tired...

Just let go, let go. Yes, Uncle Ivan, wouldn't it be better for all? I rolled to one side and let out a last sigh.

A sudden lightning bolt of pain shot through my leg. Like marbles forced through my small veins. Yanking me, jolting me rudely back to the world of the living.

And then I screamed. A milkman's horse all the way in Tobolsk pricked up his ears at the sound.

Anxious clicking of shoes came down the hall. My mother burst through the door. The whites of her eyes red like borscht. Eyes staring at me in horror, ringed by the black of a thousand sleepness nights.

"God forgive me, baby!" she said, stuffing rags the color of snow into my mouth, muffling my screams.

You may think my mother cruel. But she was only protecting me. I shall explain. This will take time. I am not the author Chekhov, paid fifteen kopecks per line! You will have patience because I command it.

I was born in 1904, and on my nynok the fate of Mother Russia was written. At six weeks of age I bled at the spot where I had once been joined to my mother. I bled, and I didn't stop bleeding. Dr. Botkin was called. He peered at my nynok over his pince-nez, as though examining a strange new purple fruit.

"It's the same thing that killed my dear Frittie, isn't it?" my mama must have said, her skin turning gray like ashes from the fireplace. "The bleeding disease."

Frittie was her brother, who got hemophilia from my Grandma Alice. Who got it from her mother, Queen Victoria of England.

"I have not seen this myself before. But...yes, I'm afraid so. It can only be hemophilia," the doctor said.

And it was at that moment that I became my family's biggest secret.

What a difference from the day I was born!

Not every boy is greeted into this world by the firing of 301 guns and a whole country's rejoicing. And not every boy is given his own army regiment to command the moment he pops out of the womb. But not every boy is Tsarevich Alexei Nikolaevich Romanov, the future tsar of all the Russias, my family's precious Fabergé jewel, born after my sisters: four useless lumps of coal we call Olga, Tatiana, Mashka, and Anastasia.

How my mama tried to have a boy!

First they visited Mitka the Fool — babbling, in rags, naked. Mama's belly was already round. Mitka gave her a potion, made from special mushrooms that make the eyes see angels' halos. Mumble, mumble.

"What did he say?" Mama whispered to Papa.

"I think he said, 'You'll have a boy.'"

"Lovey — Lovey, you really think so?" She often calls him "Lovey."

"It's hard to say...."

But Mama had another girl.

Next there was the witch, Daria Osipova. She writhed on the floor as if she had ants in her drawers. She gave Mama another potion: ramson, thorn apple, witch's grass. Mama drank, holding her nose. The room spun round in bright colors.

"Now swim in the river during a storm," Osipova advised. "When the pocked golden moon is rising. That is certain to make a boy."

Mama swam by the light of the moon, lightning storm raging. It's a wonder she didn't get herself electrocuted!

Instead Mama got herself...another girl.

Next, the weird Montenegrin princesses sent her Monsieur Philippe. Famous in France for his miracles. It was said Monsieur had special powers.

"Did you see me walking yesterday with Monsieur Philippe?" one of the Montenegrin princesses said to Mama.

"No, Militsa."

"Ah, but of course not! He made us both invisible!"

Mama was soon pregnant again. Joy of joys! But, alas, only a false pregnancy. And then another girl!

Philippe said it was Mama's fault. That she didn't have enough faith. Not enough faith! Mama, who prays day and night on her calloused knees for us? Mama, whose heart nearly broke when she gave up the German religion she was born with — so she could marry and embrace Papa's?

Monsieur Philippe said that someday another man of faith would come to help Mama in all ways. A holy man with deep penetrating eyes that see into your soul — more powerful, even, than he. Monsieur went back to France, and then he died. Or was invisible, forever, I suppose.

Mama was nearing the end of being able to make babies. She was tired. My parents had four girls; they were desperate. Who wouldn't be — with a palace full of chattering crows? Only boys can rule Russia. That is the law now — as it should be.

Then Father Ioann of Kronstadt told my parents of the miracle-worker, Serafim of Sarov, who'd died in 1833. Mama got Serafim canonized. She and Papa went to Sarov in the summer of 1903 to pray to the new saint — for the future me.

When I was born, my papa and sisters danced the mazurka! How could they have known then what was to come — that my diadkas would sometimes have to carry me like a baby, long after I was one no longer?

"Give me a bicycle."

"You know you cannot."

"Mama, I want to play tennis like my sisters."

"You know you dare not play."

"Why aren't I like everyone else!"

Copyright © 2007 by Staton Rabin


That day at our hunting lodge in spala in 1912 — when my mother stuffed rags into my mouth — she was not granting my wish to die. She was only smothering my screams. No one must hear me, she said. It is dangerous to be a Romanov. Especially these days. "Remember what they did to Great-grandpa Alexander — and to Uncle Serge. No one outside the family must know the future tsar is ill."

But my French tutor, Gilliard, knew. Mama says Papa knows everything. But Gilliard knows almost everything.

Here is an example of how much Gilliard knows (Gilliard says a writer who gives no examples is no better than a fool): It happened four years ago — several months after my crisis at Spala.

"Your Highness," Gilliard said to my father one evening. "May I speak freely?" Gilliard does not bow. He does not believe in bowing — even to me. We were at Tsarskoye Selo, as always during the winter, ever since things got too dangerous for us in St. Petersburg. I sat on a stool near them on the balcony, my leg straight now and almost healed. I was pasting photographs of our elephant — a gift from King Chulalongkorn of Siam — into the album. But the special glue Papa had ordered from England kept sticking to my fingers.

My father nodded to Gilliard, then sighed.

"You may speak. Not about Rasputin again, I hope. You know that the tsarina — "

"No, not Father Grigory. It's about the boy."

Papa seemed relieved. Now they had my attention. I pretended not to be listening.


"He jumps, and his sailor-nannies catch him. He reaches, but they do the reaching for him. Almost before the thought even crosses his mind! How can the boy learn to discipline himself if others do it for him?"

"You know his special needs. You know the dangers."

Gilliard scratched his pointy beard impatiently.

"Yes, yes, I know the dangers. A bump, the merest injury, can mean suffering, months abed. Even death! But even more dangerous is this: a boy who will someday rule one sixth of the globe who cannot rule even his own impulses! A boy who never has a playmate except his doctors' sons and his own sisters! He knows nothing of his people. He knows nothing of the world!"

"You are his tutor. It is your job to teach him."

"What Alexei must learn to be a great tsar is not found in books. Not even in Tolstoy."

"We are done with Tolstoy," I said, forgetting that they weren't supposed to know I was listening. "He is tiresome. Papa is reading Sherlock Holmes to us now."

My father and Gilliard exchanged a smile. But Papa's smile quickly faded.

"I am a plain, simple man. When my father died, I was less prepared to be tsar than Alexei is now. But I learned! He is bright, he too will learn. In good time."

I felt as tall as my elephant. My father rubbed the place on his head that gave him headaches. The spot where a Japanese policeman had once sliced him with a sword. Cousin George had saved him, knocking the blade away just in time with his cane.

"But you will speak to Her Majesty about it?"

Even I was surprised to hear Gilliard challenge my father so boldly.

Papa sighed again and glanced at me, as if looking for some sort of sign. I winked at him.

At last, he nodded at Gilliard. Just then Papa's face lit up in an angel's smile. And I knew that my mother must have walked into the room.

Only she could make him smile like that.

Once, Grandpa Sasha held up the collapsed roof of a dining car, when his imperial train crashed at Borki. Twenty-one people died, and Grandpa held up the train's ceiling all by himself. Long enough so that Papa and the rest of his family could crawl to safety. That's what later killed Grandpa so young, the doctors said. The strain of holding up that car broke his kidneys. Well, sometimes it seemed that being tsar of Russia was like trying to hold up the roof of a train. And, lately, the roof was always caving in, with one revolution behind us, and talk of another to come. But my mama's love gave my father the strength to hold up the roof. Like Atlas holding up the whole world.

Spala, 1912

"When I am dead, it will not hurt anymore, will it, Mama?"

"No, darling. Never again. But you must not think like that."

"Oh, my leg — my leg! Where is Father Grigory?"

"Hush! Please, baby, someone will hear you! Our Friend had to go away for a while. You know how the people are — jealous, suspicious of saints. But he is praying for you."

"Oh, Mama! It hurts!"

"I know, darling, I know. I would give my heart, my soul — anything to take away your pain. When I think that it was my blood — my blood! — that did this to you, I — "

"It's not your fault, Mama!"

"Alexei — baby, you must promise me something."

"Yes, Mama?"

"Always take care of your sisters. And your father."

"Take care of him? But Papa is strong!"

"Papa is a good man, yes. But he is too kind — too kind for this cruel world! You are strong. Take my hand. There, that is good — such a fine, strong boy. Promise me, Alexei!"

"I promise, Mama."

Mama said my hand felt like a burning stove to her touch. Blood had pooled where my leg meets my body, forming a fiery, infected lump. Papa, broken with grief, ordered a bulletin drawn up, announcing my death.

But a telegram changed all our lives forever that day in Spala. Yes, a telegram! Do you doubt the word of the tsarevich?

"It is from Our Friend," my mother said, brow furrowing, reading it to herself. "In Siberia."

"Father Grigory...," I murmured gratefully through fevered lips as dry as buckwheat groats. "I knew he would! What does he say?"

"'God has seen your tears and heard your prayers. Do not grieve. The Little One will not die. Do not allow the doctors to bother him too much.'"

The wrinkle in my mother's brow flattened out. Like one of her chambermaids smoothing a sheet. By the next morning, my fever broke. I was on the way to being well again, though it would take a long time. And from that moment on, Mama needed Our Friend. Believing in him as she believed in the Holy Mother. We knew that Father Grigory was the man of God that Monsieur Philippe had promised would someday come help Mama and make us all safe again. With deep blue eyes that could penetrate deeply into our souls. From that moment on, my sudba and Father Grigory's — yes, his destiny, ours, and Mother Russia's — were all written in the same blood.

Copyright © 2007 by Staton Rabin

Meet the Author

Staton Rabin has a B.F.A. in film from New York University. In addition to writing for children, she is a screenwriter; a popular speaker about the art, craft, and business of writing for film; and a veteran story analyst for Scr(i)pt magazine, screenwriters, and producers. Staton Rabin lives in Irvington, New York.

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