Kiersten White has really done something special with this book. I knew the general premise of the novel from the blurb but hadn’t gone out of my way to look up reviews or details of the plot ahead of time. I knew it was set in a real historical moment but I didn’t realise who the plot revolved around. Let me tell you, from the first page, I was hooked. When I realised that White had gender swapped the infamous Vlad the Impaler for a girl, Ladislav Dragwlya, I couldn’t wait to see how she dealt with the real historical events that would inevitably shape her novel.
“Souls and thrones are irreconcilable.”
From the outset, Lada was a character that intrigued me. She was confident, arrogant and brutal in a way I had never seen a protagonist in YA fiction presented before. For the first 100 pages of the novel I was willing for her to soften in some way. For her to do something to redeem her dark and twisted thoughts. Then as the novel progressed, I found myself not wanting to change her ruthlessness. I revelled in it. The reader sees her grow up from birth and you can track her descent further into her viciousness (or ascent to greatness). Seeing the circumstances she is placed in made it easier to swallow her savagery. She was unapologetically herself and I liked her for it.
Having grown up reading vampire novels and liking history, I knew a brief history of Vlad the Impaler. However, as I progressed through the novel, I found myself forgetting the events I knew would be coming and reading frantically to see what would happen next. There was something innately human in Lada’s struggle that made me not care what she did to achieve her goals. Much of Lada’s strength was found in her rejection of her femininity. By the end of the novel, it was practically non-existent, something she actively strived for, but I found her journey of confronting her womanhood all the more interesting for it. After all, White’s novel is still set in the 15th century, not exactly the heyday of women’s rights! Her impassioned speech to Mehmed where she declares that “[she] will not be ruled” sums up her personality in one short declaration. I don’t blame her for her unmoving convictions either. Both Radu and Lada are born into a world that does not want them to survive. Their fight for survival, and then greatness, is something to be admired.
Radu was the most obviously likeable character. He’s handsome and caring and desperate for any form of love, a love his family has never bestowed upon him. At the beginning, I pitied him for his unhappiness and inability to flourish. This only grew as Radu starts to understand himself and his desires better throughout the novel.
Radu and Lada’s relationship was incredibly well written. It was so realistic in its fluidity. Overall, although not a perfect relationship, it really did melt my heart. Their characters contrasted continuously, reminding me of how I would normally expect Lada’s character, historically male, to act. Whereas Lada was made to conquer, Radu was made to serve. Radu was morally the better person, but somehow I didn’t care. Lada was much more interesting and I found her unapologetic ambition more inspiring.
Mehmed was also an interesting character. His relationship to Lada and Radu was slightly heartbreaking but my sympathy did not lie with him. My opinions of him definitely varied throughout the novel but by the end I was completely happy with how the events unfolded. As Sultan, he was naturally entitled and his conquerors attitude was less sympathetic than Lada’s. Whereas other characters were willing to sacrifice so much for him, he was unable to reciprocate. I could write so much more about my feelings on the ending of the novel but I don’t want to give too much away.
Overall, I loved this novel and I can’t wait to see what the rest of the series is like. White transformed well known historical figures from distant memories into personal and touching characters. I would 100% recommend this to any fan of historical fiction, or even just someone with a love for strong, plot driven books.
Hope you enjoy,