Fun fact: I was typing up this review at 3 in the morning, and when I looked back to proofread it the next day, I realized that I had written “Radoo” in place of Radu every. Single. Time.
For some reason, I found it hilarious and laughed for practically five minutes straight. I’m still giggling thinking about it. I probably just have an odd sense of humor.
That, or I really need to get more sleep.
Warning: This review will be long. It will include spoilers for the first book, And I Darken. And it probably won’t make much sense.
PS: Read my review for And I Darken here! ❤
She has no allies. No throne. All she has is what she’s always had: herself.
After failing to secure the Wallachian throne, Lada Dracul is out to punish anyone who dares to cross her blood-strewn path. Filled with a white-hot rage, she storms the countryside with her men, accompanied by her childhood friend Bogdan, terrorizing the land. But brute force isn’t getting Lada what she wants. And thinking of Mehmed brings little comfort to her thorny heart. There’s no time to wonder whether he still thinks about her, even loves her. She left him before he could leave her.
What Lada needs is her younger brother Radu’s subtlety and skill. But Mehmed has sent him to Constantinople—and it’s no diplomatic mission. Mehmed wants control of the city, and Radu has earned an unwanted place as a double-crossing spy behind enemy lines. Radu longs for his sister’s fierce confidence—but for the first time in his life, he rejects her unexpected plea for help. Torn between loyalties to faith, to the Ottomans, and to Mehmed, he knows he owes Lada nothing. If she dies, he could never forgive himself—but if he fails in Constantinople, will Mehmed ever forgive him?
As nations fall around them, the Dracul siblings must decide: what will they sacrifice to fulfill their destinies? Empires will topple, thrones will be won…and souls will be lost.
Rating: 5 gloriously stabby stars.
This book left me feeling like I had just been skewered EMOTIONALLY multiple times in the heart with one of Lada’s wrist knives.
Like its predecessor, Now I Rise is on the slower side. It’s 471 pages, filled to the brim– or in this case, to the cover– with dense political intrigue and enough backstabbing to take out an entire contingent of Janissaries.
(Unless those Janissaries were led by our own darling Lada. In that case, I’d place all my bets on her, obviously.)
Before I begin spewing word vomit AKA my review, can I just please politely request from the oh-so-benevolent author a nice, soothing Happily Ever After for everyone, tied up in a neat little bow? Pretty pretty please? It’s not going to happen right okay I’ll stop
He sat on the edge of the roof, his feet dangling in the void beneath him. It echoed the one that had opened up inside him. He felt close to falling- or to flying. He did not know which it would be, but had no doubt time would tell.
Radu. Radoo. THIS GUY. My heart went out to him, even as I desperately wanted to smack him upside the head because HOW CAN HE BE SO BLIND?
He takes unrequited love to an entirely new level- seriously, not one page goes by without him mentioning Mehmed’s name at least once.
It’s tragically ironic to see him struggling in the same position as his former friend, Lazar. His development as a character is incredible— incredible and heartbreaking. His naivete is yanked away, forcing him to rethink the consequences of his loyalty to Mehmed.
He was no longer a lost little boy in a strange new city. Now he was a lost man in a broken old city, and no amount of prayers and kindness could undo what had been done.
But never you fear! Not everything was all angsty-angsty-angsty
just most of it. His friendship with Nazira, and his absolutely delightful slow burn romance with Cyprian, shone like beacons of pure glittering golden light against the tangled ickiness of his feelings for Mehmed. And I say “tangled ickiness” because this child deserves better. *huffs*
(I demand a tearful reunion between Radu and Cyprian. I also demand that Lada rule the world.)
I also want to give a massive shout-out to Nazira, who is honestly the sweetest soul ever to bless this universe. She and Fatima are the literal DEFINITION of Too Precious For This World.
“I have met your sister, and I have met Mehmed. They love themselves and their ambition above all else. They love what feeds their ambition, and when it stops feeding that, the love will turn to hate with more passion than either could ever love with. You love with all your heart, Radu, and deserve someone who can answer that with all of theirs.”
Nazira’s characterizations of both Lada and Mehmed serve as heavy-handed foreshadowing for what’s to come for the Dracul siblings, which is pretty unnerving considering that she met Lada practically once.
To this day, I’m still blown away by Radu’s development as a character. I want to encompass him in all the teddy bear hugs in the world. He deserves no less.
She did what she did not for herself or her family name but for Wallachia. She would earn the throne. “I am Lada Dracul, and I will be prince.” She lowered her voice, leaning toward the man and speaking like the sound of swords being drawn. “Do you doubt that?
I would so marry Lada without hesitation, except for the teensy tiny fact that she’d probably kill me first. She’s like a mash-up of Arya Stark and Brienne of Tarth, and will happily smash all of your “tender sensibilities” into pulp.
Here, she is at once more brutal and more vulnerable, but it was in those rare moments of vulnerability that I connected to her most. I felt Lada’s desperation, her loneliness, her powerlessness. How can someone who stabs so many people still be so relatable?
Her merits, her accomplishments, her strength would never speak for themselves. She would have to cut her way through the world, uphill, for the rest of her life.
I want to hug Kiersten White for masterfully developing such a complex, morally grey antiheroine that I can root for without shame. In fiction, we often don’t get to see the characters encounter the nitty-gritty aspects of life– periods, taking trips to the loo when you’re the only girl in a pack of smelly men, did I mention PERIODS, and so on.
White, however, doesn’t shy away from depicting Lada’s raw struggle with sexuality, and it’s really quite amusing to observe her obvious discomfort regarding certain aspects of womanhood. I also adored the friendly banter between her soldiers, which became rare moments of levity in a largely dark, violent book.
Lada ultimately chooses herself over her romance. That was definitely a refreshing change of pace from constantly having to read about some randomly-thrown-in plot twist that allows the protagonist to both achieve her goals AND get the guy.
“God is not here tonight,” Lada said. “It is only you and me and my knife. Who wanted me dead?”
Like Radu, she makes tough choices, and she has to live with them. The two siblings are completely opposite sides of the same coin, but I loved how in this book, they realized that they NEEDED each other.
Though they are separated for the entirety of the book, they think of each other constantly– Radu needs his sister’s confidence and ferocity, and Lada seriously needs her brother’s diplomatic skills because her political IQ is
nonexistent probably in the negatives. #PETITION TO REUNITE THE DRACUL SIBLINGS 2K17
And despite Nazira’s eerie words, I believe that Lada’s love for her country extends far beyond simple “ambition”. Though, on some level, Lada wants the power that comes with being vaivode, her love for Wallachia is almost religious.
I personally enjoyed her sections of the novel better than Radu’s. Not because I, too, am a knife-wielding murderess (I can’t even squash a cockroach without screaming bloody murder), but rather because it was just so entertaining to watch her tear through her enemies.
I am awed, inspired, and a little bit terrified by Lada’s fierce determination.
Mehmed hovers over the overall narrative like a dark, looming shadow. Okay, maybe not exactly a shadow, but he does do some very shady stuff.
Despite being leagues apart from both of them, he is a constant presence in the Dracul siblings’ thoughts (and hearts).
He also undergoes significantly less fleshed-out development in comparison to Radu’s incredible character arc, which, though initially irritating, makes logical sense. For narrative reasons, we know him only from Radu and Lada’s observations, and they- particularly Radu- have a tendency to put him on a pedestal.
We do, however, witness his colder, harder, and more manipulative side as he does whatever it takes to succeed in his siege of Constantinople. In that way, I find the three childhood friends to be unexpectedly similar- they commit terrible acts in order to secure their heart’s desires.
(We also witness his poetry. Which, by the way, is horrible. And somehow very amusing.)
Yes, Mehmed might conquer Constantinople, but will he really be satisfied? He will want more-– more land, more power, more prestige. The mantle of faith falls heavy on his shoulders, and like Lada, he burns with fire for his country.
And does he truly love Lada? Debatable. But again, like Lada, he will never choose love over his own throne– and thus their fates seem to be inevitably, and tragically, intertwined.
Looking out over the city, he wondered at each of the lights. Who lived there? What were they thinking? Were they, too, praying for peace? For direction? For protection?
And whose god was listening?
In his single-minded intensity to conquer Constantinople, Mehmed schemes and lies to his closest friend and his (former) lover.
Radu, too, betrays the people who he grows to care for in Constantinople. He chooses Mehmed over a city- admittedly, a city that’s already dying, but a city filled with innocents all the same.
And Lada murders, massacres, and manipulates– albeit quite clumsily, and sometimes unintentionally- those close to her, doing whatever it takes to secure the Wallachian throne.
In short, all of their hands are covered in blood. Some– *cough* Lada *cough* MEHMED — more so than others.
(So, as you can see, this is such a fun, light-hearted, feel-good book! All rainbows and sprinkles and sunshine! It’s the book equivalent of Red Velvet Cake with Funfetti frosting!!)
Through it, perfectly framed, the falling star finally burned out. She lifted her face, closing her eyes, as her mother blessed her. A warmth settled deep inside, and she clutched the locket she always wore.
She was home.
I find Kiersten White’s writing to be absolutely PERFECT for the tone of this book. Though it doesn’t overload you on too much sensory detail, some of the dramatic scenes just took my breath away and sent shivers down my spine. This book explored the different religions with such respect, and I appreciated that it didn’t demonize one over the other.
In short: we need more stories like this.
From the bottom of my heart, I don’t want this to be a story of how “love turns to hate”, how a brother chooses a doomed love interest over his own blood sister. I don’t want to watch them destroy each other.
But alas, what the reader wants, and what the story needs, are two completely different things. So maybe that’s inevitable.
Or maybe Radu will miraculously get whisked off to Cyprus with Cyprian, where he will live the rest of his long, happy, magical days with the purest couple in the world, Nazira and Fatima!! (Shhh don’t look at me like that- it will happen, mark my words.)
But if there’s one thing I know for sure about this series, it’s that it won’t be pretty.