TDLR at the end of the post!!!
GENRES: YOUNG ADULT; HISTORICAL FICTION; FANTASY (ALTERNATE HISTORY); ROMANCE
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, 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.
THINGS I LIKED:
+Lada: Our complicated, sadistic, brutal, and ugly protagonist. She’s what I would describe as an anti-heroine or maybe even an anti-villain? Since she is the female Vlad the Impaler, this is seemingly her origin story to becoming one of the cruelest figures in history. Throughout the story, Lada is in this internal struggle to find her power somewhere and anywhere. By being born a woman, she understands that she does not have an advantage in this patriarchal world. However, she meets new people and women who impact her view on how women gain power in a society like this and use it to their advantage. She easily has become one of my favorite YA protags for being ruthless and messy.
and i love her and she is my adopted daughter now.
+Radu, the more sensitive and charming keeper of his twisted sister, Lada. I think him and Lada are tied as my favorites with Radu having a slight advantage. Much like Lada, he defies the patriarchal and toxic masculine society. However unlike Lada, he is much more emotional and using his wit and charm instead of weapons and tactic like Lada to win favors with enemies and allies. His story also gets more into the politics of the story as he delves into the complex society and government of the Ottoman Empire. His relationship with his sister is also one of the biggest highlights for me in this story, with how confusing it is for the both of them, with Lada wanting to both hate but also protect him and Radu just wanting her sisterly affection.
he is also my adopted son now.
+Bogdan & Nicolae, two of Lada’s best guy friends one (Bogdan) from her past in Wallachia and the other (Nicolae) from her present in the Ottoman Empire. I appreciated how they both were there for Lada in different ways. I also enjoy that their relationship to her (thus far in this book anyways) is platonic. I think platonic relationships between opposite sexes in YA is vastly vastly underrated.
+THE POLITICS – Handled surprisingly well IMO. I’ve read some YA where they’ve either 1) completely neglected the politics of fantasy and just wing it and it ends up going haywire 2) the politics are handled poorly and it gets convoluted.
+WORLDBUILDING + SETTING – Wallachia, Ottoman Empire, Amasya…lots of pretty, exotic locations. The way the Ottoman Empire worked with its system of government and military and soldiers.
+EXPLORATION OF THE ISLAMIC CULTURE AND RELIGION – I don’t really much to say in terms how well the religion and culture were handled since I’m not Islamic, but from what I could gather, the author did a fair amount of research on the subject. Also I didn’t sense anything disrespectful in her representation of it, as I kind of feared could have happened with this. It was just refreshing to read about another religion.
+GAY REP!!! – I won’t really say who because I don’t want to give spoilers but I wanted to advise anyone going into this since I’ve seen it mentioned nowhere. I like the subtle way that the author built to the revelation that the character has, with that feeling of “oh I always knew” and “wow so that’s why”. It felt pretty real to my own experience. I will say this though as caution: one of the gay characters (yes there is more than 1 thank god) has a one-sided infatuation for a character in the book that’s straight & there isn’t really a sign that the character will ever reciprocate those feelings. I’m really hoping that the said gay character can recover from this, because this is a trope that I find troubling and sometimes problematic in terms of gay representation in books, especially in YA where some people will say there’s gay rep but then its something like this were the gay character literally has no chance of having real love and is just left lonely.
+FEMINISM + TAKING DOWN THE PATRIARCHY: There are plenty of fabulous and sassy and empowering female characters here. Huma, Halima, Mara, Torhin, the Nurse, Nazira and her maid, Fatima. I’m not trying to say that this book is without some sort of flaw in terms of feminism, but wow I was so refreshed to see how Lada interacts with other women (at first weary and even jealous) but by the end she has grown to respect their differences and understand the ways that they gain power and freedom. I also really loved Mara and Halima’s kind of friendship despite them being opposites. Female friendships are yet another overlooked and underappreciated thing in YA too. Also Nazira and Fatima…I can’t so anymore but I liked that too 😉
THINGS I DISLIKED (kind of):
– MEHMED – Okay I kind of sort of understand why Lada and Radu were in love with him. They met in their most vulnerable ages when they both needed someone in their lives who could care and love with the way that no one else had before, and he did those things. He saw Radu as a trusted and loyal companion that he could share his deepest vulnerabilities with despite Radu being seen as “weak”, and Lada as a desirable woman despite her being described as “ugly” by many. But beyond that, he just did nothing for me to make me believe he is that worthy of them. He doesn’t seem smart in most of his political moves, in fact he mostly acted rash. He needed other people like Radu, Halil Pasha, Lada, and his mother Huma to do things for him in order to move forward. His feelings for both Lada and Radu just frustrated me because he treated mostly everyone else like dirt, espsecially his harem (which I’m glad that Lada called him out on it). Overall I do understand why he’s there and I understand the complexities of his character because much like the other characters in this story: he’s messy and he’s also pretty attractive, I hate to admit. But he was messy in the way that made me annoyed with him instead of sympathizing with him. I didn’t HATE him but I didn’t entirely buy into him either.
– There were a few points throughout the story where some chapters kind of slowed down the pace. The first chapters felt very slow but they did still keep up my attention.
– There were some chapters towards the end that had some grammatical errors and things that just didn’t make sense. I feel like towards the end there was a struggle to finish. But the ending was nevertheless great.
TLDR; Overall I would highly recommend this especially if you like a dark and complex alternate historical fantasy, wrapped in messy anti-heroes, politics, refreshing look into a different culture that isn’t represented often in YA, and a feminist perspective in a toxic masculine society.