Series: The Conquerors Saga #1
Published by Delacorte Press on June 28th 2016
Genres: young adult, fantasy, historical
Buy on Amazon
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.
When I first read the description, all I cared about was the “NO ONE EXPECTS A PRINCESS TO BE BRUTAL.”
Expect it? No. Love it? YES! Sign me up for that because while I love my sweet, pretty princesses, sometimes I want one draped in blood and crowned with gore. So, I have to admit I was a bit in love when i read the description.
I went in, not knowing what to expect. I was surprised when I found a book inspired by historical events surrounded by the time period of the Ottoman Empire and the legend of Vlad the Impaler. It was a direction I wasn’t expecting, but I was still pleased by this subtle, politically charged look into gender bending one of the most well known figures in history.
And I Darken made good use of a slow building storyline, to unfold the events that would shape some well-known historical figures during the course of the novel. After some research into the events surrounding the trinity of the three main characters, the reader was armed with the foresight of events to come, which added a layer of anxiety and tragedy to the complicated story line of tangled love, broken hearts, shattered childhoods, and splintered souls. When I was about a third of the way into the novel, I couldn’t quite understand why the novel was moving at such a slow pace. I started to dig into the biographies of the people of the novel, unaware that the characters were lifted from history, and after reading about the background of each person, it just hit me: the suspense for the battle that will define Vlad, Radu, and Mehmed is hanging on the horizon, and for the first part of the journey, the audience is watching the friendship and the deep-seeded love root and blossom, knowing the darkness that is lying in the future of each. The tension of what to come started to claw at my heart as I watched the three of them whisper secrets in their heads and into the ears and hearts of one another was enough to shake me up while I devoured the story.
While I enjoyed the characters, I have to say that I felt a kinship with Lada. She isn’t made of sugar and spice, and her heart festers with anger, disappointment, and the discomfort with her feminine identity. I’m so thankful that White gave us a character that isn’t trying to shed her identity, but is confused, and bewildered by her gender roles and the expectations set before her. Having Lada approach the female identity was a breath of fresh air. She scorned and hated that she was a woman, but she soon saw what strength women can hold, and while she never used that newly-found tool, she could admire it from afar. She didn’t reject it completely or believe herself superior because she was more like a man, she simply hated the cage that defined for women and was highly confused and, deep down, frightened of herself. I’m tired of reading about girl who smirk and strut around about because they’re the “cool girls,” because they don’t need make up and dresses and trinkets. I want a girl who just fights against her identity, and is trying to find her own place within the world, while trying to come to terms with her own gender as she does so without the theme becoming a choking point in the book.
There are many heavy topics in the book that are hard to tackle in young adult fiction, such as gender, religion, and war, but White doesn’t speak softly here and carry a big stick. She tells her story without pushing an agenda. She is here to tell a story, not sell us propaganda. The hackles-raised feeling kicked in when Islam was brought in, since the subject is so charged and in the spotlight at the moment, but it was incorporated where I felt that it was natural and organic in the story, and I actually learned some new ideas and things that I never knew before. It opened my mind, and allowed me to approach the subject without feeling like a stranger.
There is the topic of a love triangle in the story, but the romantic story line is quite complicated, and not a formula to help promote a book. If you’re going in involve multiple people in a romantic plot, then this is how you do it, where there doesn’t seem to be a fluffy, sweet outcome. Love is a surprising theme of the book, and there are many events that are kicked off due to someone’s heart, and forbidden romance. There is quite a bit of gay romance themes here, without the forced agenda. It is heart shattering, and uplifting, and quite beautiful.
This is a book that hurts. There is emotional and literal bleeding. As soon as you think you know someone, a character shocks you. The story is a bit slow, but it builds on itself to set a bigger picture. This is a well crafted tale of the pain people inflict on one another, and the healing they can provide. I’m excited for the rest of the series.