June 28, 2016
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NO ONE EXPECTS A PRINCESS TO BE BRUTAL.
And Lada Dragwlya likes it that way. Ever since she and her gentle younger brother, Radu, were wrenched from their homeland of Wallachia and abandoned by their father to be raised in the Ottoman courts, Lada has known that being ruthless is the key to survival. She and Radu are doomed to act as pawns in a vicious game, an unseen sword hovering over their every move. For the lineage that makes them special also makes them targets.
Lada despises the Ottomans and bides her time, planning her vengeance for the day when she can return to Wallachia and claim her birthright. Radu longs only for a place where he feels safe. And when they meet Mehmed, the defiant and lonely son of the sultan, who’s expected to rule a nation, Radu feels that he’s made a true friend—and Lada wonders if she’s finally found someone worthy of her passion.
But Mehmed is heir to the very empire that Lada has sworn to fight against—and that Radu now considers home. Together, Lada, Radu, and Mehmed form a toxic triangle that strains the bonds of love and loyalty to the breaking point.
Previously, the Ottoman Empire, Wallachia, Constantinople, and all of the other areas of that time were just something I learned a little bit about back in World History Class. Kiersten White's And I Darken does a fantastic job actually bringing them to life.
You understand more of the politics of the time, who was beholden to whom, which regions were under the other's control and/or protection, who might invade,w ho might be invaded. As well as the battle between Christianity and Islam in the region, at the time. It really made a time and location I was only barely aware of really real.
The idea that this book posed the question, 'What if Vlad the Impaler had been a girl?' did, I think, have me expecting something a bit different. This is very much about Lada (and Radu and Mehmed) growing up, as they move towards being adults. There was less action, maybe, than I anticipated but now, after finishing the story I see how crucial it was that this part be told. (I liken it to how I love the latter seasons of Buffy much more than the early ones, but those early ones absolutely had to happen for what came later. I do not know that this will be my favorite of the Conquerers Saga books, but it's absolutely vital to the characters, knowing how they are, how they got that way and to understanding their world.)
This book does a great job making Lada a girl at a time when women had very limited options and opportunities, making her strong and willful - not to mention, at least, a touch mean and violent - without it being truly incongruous. Through her interactions and observations of other characters, we see more of who and what women were truly like, what they did to find advantages and where they had power.
I really enjoyed the unconventional relationships and personalities in this book. The way Lada and Radu were with each other and how it might have been different than you'd expect, but they stayed true to it though the years; Mehmed's character and the role he played; who Radu was in the beginning and who he became.
This book, with where and how it ended, absolutely has me looking forward to Book 2 and seeing what happens in these characters' lives. Kiersten White has done a great job with this historical retelling with Vlad the Impaler as a girl.
received, for review, from publisher via NetGalley