Published June 28th 2016 by Delacorte Press
“A dragon did not crawl on its belly in front of its enemies, begging for their help. A dragon did not vow to rid the world of infidels, and then invite them into its home. A dragon did not flee its land in the middle of the night like a criminal.
A dragon burned everything around herself until it was purified in ash.”
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.
“If we were not pushing, fighting, claiming what is ours and challenging what is not yet ours, others would be doing it to us. It is the way of the world. You can be the aggressor, you can fight against crusaders on their own land, or you can stay at home and wait for them to come to you. And they would come. They would come with fire, with disease, with swords and blood and death. Weakness is an irresistible lure.”
This was one book that made me feel ecstatic and ashamed in equal measure- ecstatic because it was enchanting in plot, characterisation, emotion and substance, and ashamed because it made me aware of my ignorance of Eastern European history. I actually mistook Wallachia to be a fictional place initially and only after a sound googling session was I made aware of my folly. The googling session acquainted me with the fascinating history of the Ottoman empire and mde me realise how cleverly Ms White has twisted a few facts and manipulated history to potray Vlad The Impaler as a girl.
Which brings me to the best part of the book- Lada!
“On our wedding night," she said, "I will cut out your tongue and swallow it. Then both tongues that spoke our marriage vows will belong to me, and I will be wed only to myself. You will most likely choke to death on your own blood, which will be unfortunate, but I will be both husband and wife and therefore not a widow to be pitied.”
Even though I'm straight as a ruler, I'd be lying if I denied that I was totally crushing on Lada. I'd expected her to be a badass, but she was in a different class entirely. She was ruthless and efficient (almost to the point of being cruel and callous), independent and brave and fiercely protective of those she cared about at the same time. She was a chaotic mess of emotions and it was sooooo much fun to see her struggle to choose between love and duty, herself and her country.
Radu, her brother, was another very interesting character. He was her stark opposite in almost every way- soft to her innate hardness, kind to her callousness, scared to her brash bravery. But his character development came as a complete surprise. It's commendable how flawlessly Ms. White melded his mouse of a character to be a smart, strategic, almost cunning man, while retaining all the essential qualities that made Radu Radu. I can't wait to see how his character shapes up in the later books.
Mehmed's character was also very captivating. It was entertaining to see his transformation from a nobody to an able emperor. The world building was perfect. Nowhere in the 400+ page journey was I bored. There was a subtle build up before any major plot twist, enough to make me squirm with excitement in my seat. Ms. White paints a very vivid picture of the dreary lands of Wallachia, of the opulent wealth of Edierne, of bloody battles and of sexy romantic scenes. It was a delicious mix of characters and emotions and I adored every bit of it.
The ending was perfect and painful in equal measure. It was kind of meant to be, and at the same time I couldn't help hoping for an alternate one.
I'm eagerly awaiting to get my hands on the sequel and read more of these characters to see them get the ending they deserve.
Highly recommended: 5/5 stars!