By: Kiersten White
Published: June 28, 2016 by Delacorte Press
Source: Netgalley ARC from publisher
(Goodreads / Amazon)
This vividly rendered novel reads like HBO’s Game of Thrones . . . if it were set in the Ottoman Empire. Ambitious in scope and intimate in execution, the story’s atmospheric setting is rife with political intrigue, with a deftly plotted narrative driven by fiercely passionate characters. Fans of Victoria Aveyard’s THE RED QUEEN, Kristin Cashore’s GRACELING, and Sabaa Tahir’s AN EMBER IN THE ASHES won’t want to miss this visceral, immersive, and mesmerizing novel, the first in a trilogy.MY REVIEW:
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, who’s expected to rule a nation, 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.
From New York Times bestselling author Kiersten White comes the first book in a dark, sweeping new series in which heads will roll, bodies will be impaled . . . and hearts will be broken.
This would be one of those times that the Goodreads summary (and at the time of requesting a 4.5 star rating) drew me in first and the hype of the book second. To say the summary played on my emotions surrounding my enjoyment of Game of Thrones and An Ember in the Ashes is an understatement. And well,,,,,it just didn't live up to my personal feelings around either of those.
The premise of the story is interesting to me. The executive editor writes a "letter to readers" in the opening pages of the book (at least the ARC copy I had) explaining the historical background of the story and why Kiersten wrote about the Ottoman empire and Vlad the Impaler. I like history quite a lot, so this was interesting to me. But I was expecting the characters to be near adult in age for this story. Not so. Through at least the first half of the book the main characters ages appear to be younger than 13, potentially spanning as early as 5 to 13. Age is never quite spelled out and time passes but it's months at a time versus years as best as I could tell and time moves slowly so it was hard to get a good idea of their ages throughout the story. There is mention of bodies changing, voices deepening, so one can be sure the characters reach puberty at some point but they definitely don't reach adulthood in the sense that we think of through what I read. This was an "UGH" feeling for me. I prefer to read books that have characters in the 17/18 range and above. Due to the content of this story though, it definitely could not be considered middle grade in genre. By 60% through I surmised that Lada and Mehmed are about 18 years old and Radu is 16.
Lada and Radu are siblings, the youngest children of Vlad Dracul. In a move for an alliance the children are sent to live in the Ottoman courts with the Sultan. Though their situation is like that of mere hostages, game pieces used to keep their father in line, they are living quite comfortably and being educated by the same tutor as the Sultan's youngest son, Mehmed.
Lada is not your average girl. She doesn't have particular physical beauty. She is more ruthless, more cunning and manipulative, more fierce than most boys. She despises the fact that she will never be anything more than a female in the eyes of her father. So she does everything she can to prove herself to him and those around her and vows to fight for her homeland. Radu, the child who got the physical beauty in the family, is rather weak as a boy. He isn't a fighter that's for sure. As he grows he becomes more interested in the Islamic religion. Lada has to protect him many times over. Both children form a friendship with Mehmed. And after peace is reached in Ottoman, Mehmed's father steps down into retirement leaving Mehmed as Sultan as a young boy.
There is much unrest among the land, which leads to wars, specifically wars between Lada and Radu's home country and Ottoman. They learn quickly how to manipulate situations to keep themselves safe. Their father handed them over to the wolves and yet they themselves become like wolves.
For those who are sensitive to this type of content, (it's something I would've valued knowing ahead of time before requesting this book), there is a m/m scene about 60% into the story with one of the main characters. Not overly graphic but involves kissing. At the rate that storyline was going I was anticipating more scenes along those lines.
I struggled from 60%-65% with wanting to continue reading or not. Radu's sexual orientation, by which he is confused about because "no one ever talks about it" continues to come up. Due to my personal convictions and beliefs I finally decided to DNF at 65% through. Aside from that aspect this wasn't a story that was keeping my attention very well as it goes by fairly slowly. Initially I ended it with a 2.5 star rating because I feel I read enough to know my personal feelings overall on the book. Upon further review of my rating system explanation, and in order to stay consistent with that, a DNF book for me equates to 1 star. So I have since changed my star rating for this book to 1 star.
"But you always have a choice. You can choose to find comfort and solace in God. You can choose to be brave and compassionate. And you can choose to find beauty and happiness wherever they present themselves."
"People respond to kindness, Lada. they trust a smile more than a promise that you will leave them choking on their own blood."
"There is power in stillness. There is power in watching, waiting, saying the right thing at the right time to the right person. There is power in being a woman..."
Language Rating: 1 (light)
Mature Content Rating: 1.5 (light - medium)
Final Rating: 1 stars (DNF)