I think this is really more a political drama then anything else. Kiersten White re-imagines the origins of Vlad the Impaler as if he had been born a Lada, a girl, rather then a boy. Lada is fierce, passionate and ruthless. She is far more interested in fighting and ruling then she is anything else. From a young age, she knows that she will never be taken seriously as a girl unless she is the smarter, faster and stronger then those around here and does everything she can to make it that way. When she and her brother are left as hostages to the Ottoman Empire as a way to secure their father’s throne of Wallachia, she becomes enraged of her lack of power. Felt betrayed by her father for leaving her there, where any misstep by him, forfeits their lives. She uses her time to learn all that she can from her Ottoman captors to use in her vengeance one day. Things go a little sideways when Lada and Radu meet Mehmed, the son of the Sultan. He becomes their friend and third point to their triangle. Radu is the polar opposite to Lada. While she is strong and aggressive, he’s quiet and conservative. He has the charisma that Lada lacks. Lada has the strength that Radu lacks. They are not the closets of siblings but they are all each other has so when push comes to shove, they are there for each other.
This is a fascinating a concept. I don’t know much about the historical figure of Vlad the Impaler beyond he liked to impale people and the inspiration of Bram Stoker’s Dracula so while reading this I had no idea how much of the story is based on fact and how much is added for dramatic emphasis, so I had to google Vlad to find out. I found out that yes, Lada would have been the second child and had a younger brother named Radu. They both were sent to the Ottoman Empire as insurance of their father would continue to behave. The Ottoman’s did educate them both and Radu did convert to Islam. I’m not sure it is historical accurate that both Lada and Radu were in love with Mehmed but it wouldn’t be a YA novel without a little bit of romantic intrigue. Lada is constantly trying to prove that she is as strong as the men in her life by shunning anything feminine. There is a lot here to discuss about women’s roles and government. Besides Lada, we meet two of the Sultan’s wives as well as members of his harem. Mehmed, also has a harem but his women are hidden from us but we know they exist since he keeps fathering children. The women try to show Lada their own power that they possess but in truth what little power they have it all depends on the men in their lives and staying in his favor. Lada sees this and it makes her even more resolute to gain her own power. As for the book itself, it definitely started out slow and sped up as Lada and Radu started to exert their influence on Mehmed. I only wished it got to that point a lot sooner. I think the following books will be more interesting as all the characters and the stakes have been established. I like Lada and I don’t want to see her descend into the cruel Lada the Impaler but it will make for an interesting read.