My rating: 4 out of 5 stars
**Thank you to Random House Children’s for providing me a digital ARC of this novel via Netgalley for the purposes of review**
Lada knew punishing Transylvania for everything that had gone wrong in the past year did not make perfect strategic sense. But it felt better than anything else, and so Transylvania burned.
I made a point in my review of this novel’s predecessor, And I Darken, of noting that it was a rather long novel, but that, if you stuck with it, you would be rewarded. This novel follows that same process: it’s a long, slow-moving book that, should you stick with it, will reward you on several levels.
Mainly in that Lada is one of the best, bloodiest, most wrathful heroines to grace us in ages and I am absolutely here for it. Perhaps it makes me a terrible person, but I love the fact we have a “fight first, (maybe) talk second” heroine who is the very definition of a momentum. Once she starts, she’s more than just a little difficult to stop, so you’d best just get out of her way. While her singleminded fury would be terrifying in reality — and, trust me, it’s still a little terrifying in fiction — it’s also admirable beyond belief.
But there’s weight to it. Nothing ever feels easy for Lada, and even though I’m not trying to take back a kingdom, I can empathize with Lada’s quest because of how such bloodshed and violence affect her. Even when it doesn’t affect her. But I’m not complaining, because this is a girl who is more than a little acclimatized to traumatic violence. She’s been on the delivering and receiving ends of it so often that it’s just a part of her life and who she is.
<blockquote>She had done what was necessary. She watched as each body was removed. She would mark their passing, and acknowledge their unwilling sacrifice. Because with each body they drew closer to her goal. She clutched her locket so tightly that her fingers ached.
She was a dragon. She was a prince. She was the only hope Wallachia had of ever prospering.
And she would do whatever it took to get there.</blockquote>
This girl goes almost literally through hell and back and, by sheer force of will — and a great company of men who follow her — becomes Prince of Wallachia. That’s right: Prince. You go, girl. You take that title and you put it right in Radu and Mehmed’s faces.
The “love triangle” is more of an irritant than it was in the first book, and that is because, again, Mehmed — our triangle’s centre — is the weakest character. He’s not particularly interesting, and I am left utterly baffled as to what it is about him that so heavily infatuates Radu. I mean, yes, I’m willing to go with the idea of “different strokes for different folks” as it pertains to the people to whom we are attracted…but I just don’t get it. Mehmed is nothing more than a prat and deserves to go die alone without his harem.
The only bonus of the Radu/Mehmed portions is Radu’s wife, Nazira. This ball of sass is a regular spitfire and a great addition. I’m just sort of hoping she manages to rip Radu away from Mehmed, drag him to Lada and say, “Hi. We’re here to join your bloody campaign.”
Granted, whether or not Lada would listen…
To Radu, my brother,
I do not acknowledge your new title, nor Mehmed’s. Tell the lying coward I send no congratulations. He sent none to me when I took my throne in spite of him.
You did not choose right.
Tell Mehmed Wallachia is mine.
With all defiance,
Lada Dracul, Prince of Wallachia
…yeah, that’s up for debate.
I really can only just say how impressed I am with this series thus far. I went into it braced for something gimmicky that made me want to pull my hair out, and have been, instead, blessed with a dark, viscerally violent historical-fiction series that details the rise of a conqueror and other rulers in way that’s hypnotic. It requires patience and a good attention-span, but it earns its page-length in a way that many longer YA novels don’t.