Rating: 3.5 Bookworms
Short and Sweet Summary: After being taken to a foreign land as collateral by their father, Lada and Radu must learn to cope.
Man, oh man, where to start with this one. Let me preface this by saying that I started this book because a friend of mine said that she was struggling getting through it and so, of course, that piqued my interest. I had to read it for myself to see if I had the same struggles that she was having.
Right off the bat I struggled with the pacing. I feel as though the first 100-200 pages could have been drastically condensed. Around midway, about 250 pages in, the pace finally picked up a bit. What kept me going honestly was the fact that with a female lead like Lada Dragwlya I knew good stuff laid ahead.
“On our wedding night,” she said, “I will cut out your tongue and swallow it. Then both tongues that spoke our marriage vows will belong to me, and I will be wed only to myself. You will most likely choke to death on your own blood, which will be unfortunate, but I will be both husband and wife and therefore not a widow to be pitied.”
There is truly nothing I love more than a strong female lead and we get that in spades with Lada. Born to a father that considers women weak and to an absentee mother, Lada made it her mission to gain her fathers love and in order to do that she needs to prove herself useful. Seen as weak by her father simply because of her gender she strives to show him that she is just as skilled, or better than, any son he could want. Rather than play dress-up and dolls Lada liked to roll in the mud, climb trees, and fight with the boys. As she grew older this morphed into training with the soldiers and studying war strategy instead of learning how to sew.
A mother. A nurse. Even a friend. Perhaps if she had more women in her life, she would not feel so outraged at the physical and social demands of being one.
Gender roles come up a lot throughout the book; Lada and Radu both struggle with fitting into what society deems is the role of males and females. Her whole life she battles with the limitations placed on her because she’s a woman and I think that many, many, many women can relate to that. She has to work twice as hard to prove herself and even then people put her down–sound familiar?
Lada could spend her free time with the soldiers and their crude jokes and their worse smell. Radu spent his studying the scriptures and the teachings of the Prophet.
On the other hand, Radu is seen as weak because he’s sensitive and doesn’t want to fight. His father, the king, expects him to uphold the family name and legacy but Radu rather study than learn to fight. I think a lot of men can relate to that as well. For guys, especially during the all important formative years, the measure of masculinity is based on how athletic they are or aren’t.
Religion was a means to an end. She had seen it wielded as a weapon. If she needed to use it she would, but she would never allow herself to be used by it.
Religion is another subject that is brought up a lot throughout the book. Lada and Radu come from a country that practices Christianity but they are being held in a country that practices Islam. Lada seems against religion on all fronts, no matter what it is, she only has faith in herself and her capabilities. However, Radu needs to believe in something bigger than himself and although he was raised Christian he finds himself drawn more and more to Islam. His main concern about converting isn’t loyalty to his country but rather to his sister. If Lada found out that he had made it official, he worried it would break what remained of their bond. I thought that this was an interesting topic to weave into the fabric of the conversation but a very necessary one. Religion, or lack thereof, is a very touchy subject for many people and I think that it’s often easy for authors to go too far in either direction: to far or not enough. Kiersten White did a great job keeping a balance throughout the entire book; for every extreme opinion there was a mellow one to balance it out. Every voice was heard and even if some of the characters may think religion is stupid the author wrote it in a way that the reader knows that it’s solely the opinion of that character and not universally thought.
“There are some things it is not acceptable to want, but there are ways around it, and those who will look the other way. And then there are some things that it is impossible to want. Even the mere act of wanting, if noticed by the wrong people, can get you killed.”
Lastly, the topic of sexuality is hinted at. One of the characters (I won’t say who) really struggles with their sexuality throughout the book. During this time, 15th century, sexuality is simply not discussed and many people are ignorant about it. Those that are attracted to the same sex are careful to keep it hidden, although in this characters case most of the people closest to them can guess. I think many people in the LGBTQ community and their allies can relate to this because even though in the last decade or so there has been a ton of progress it’s still not universally accepted. Often times it is difficult for a person to come out because they are afraid of rejection or even ridiculed. I’m happy that this character has people close to them that they can trust and I’m very intrigued as to where their story line will go.
“…Carve out a life for yourself however you can. No one will do it for you.”
If you can stick with it through the slow beginning you will be in for a treat as the book picks up speed. As you can see there are many different layers to this book and I truly believe that there is something in it for everyone.
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, 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.
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KIERSTEN WHITE is the New York Times bestselling author of the Paranormalcy trilogy; the dark thrillers Mind Games and Perfect Lies; The Chaos of Stars; and Illusions of Fate. She also coauthored In the Shadows with Jim Di Bartolo. She lives with her family near the ocean in San Diego, which, in spite of its perfection, spurs her to dream of faraway places and even further away times.
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