If I were to describe this book to someone I would compare it to Game of Thrones crossed with a hint of The Invasion of the Tearling; not as bloody as the former but bloodier than the latter. I loved the book, as a fan of Erika Johansen’s books (find review of her books here- https://mbc84blog.wordpress.com/2016/07/16/the-invasion-of-the-tearling-erika-johansen/) I was immediately drawn into the world. A new take on the House of Dracul’s (Dracula to you and I) it is a gripping tale of a woman’s place in the world and how she and her brother are left to fend for themselves in a strange new land.
First child born to Vlad Dracul, Ladislav (Lada for short) would not have an easy life. Born a girl in a world ruled by men she quickly becomes wild in her own quest to be recognised and loved by her father. A year later her mother gives birth to a son, Radu, whose birth further lowers Lada’s status in the household, a boy more beautiful and softer than Lada, they both need to find a way to survive.
Through wars and broken treaties Lada and Radu are sent away to the Ottoman Empire to be held as hostages and a bargaining chip against their father. This is where the story begins to pick up pace. From here we are introduced to the Sultan’s son Mehmed, third in line for the throne and part of a plan much bigger than himself. For years the three of them live and become friends in a secluded city which Mehmed rules at the age of twelve. That is until the day he gets a letter stating his father’s retirement. He, Lada and Radu return to Edirne so he can begin his reign.
While Mehmed plays a significant part within the novel it is Lada’s and Radu’s story with the narrative focusing predominantly upon them. Their sibling relationship is an extreme version of some that I know with the older sibling bullying the younger and teasing them constantly (the teasing I can relate to). However, from the first time Lada meets Radu, White makes it clear that their bond is something that cannot and will not be broken easily.
Their development is complex from Lada’s feral stage to her womanhood while trying to figure out her own identity in a foreign place. Not must Lada find herself but, Radu, must deal with his own identity issues which do not necessarily match his sister’s. Their journey together and apart is turbulent and I loved it, I loved their devotion to one another and what they believe in and how through it all they still come back to one another. Even though love does play a significant part in the plot their relationship was the main thing -for me- which drove the plot forward.
The timing and setting of the novel bring with it new challenges about how to discuss and deal with religion, the place of woman, while still maintaining objective and identifiable in this day and age. White does this brilliantly. Religion is a key issue within the novel (and a very key issue in society today) but, White does well to show no preference for either religion or extreme violence. The only violence comes from the characters protection of one and to aid in their individual paths.
The mixture of teenage adolescent and angst, violence and identity make this a truly powerful and all-encompassing novel. Unlike Game of Thrones the politics are happening around them with the trio trying to find their foothold in it. There aren’t as many deaths and I personally found the book more accessible that George R.R. Martins novels but darker than Erika Johansen’s. The shorter length certainly helps with this. I recommend that everybody buys this book if you are into Game of Thrones or just fantasy altogether. You will not be disappointed.