My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
When I originally read the blurb for this I immediately thought “must read”. Seriously, gender switching Vlad the Impaler story, how could I resist….and then I saw some of the reviews which weren’t exactly glowing and it gave me pause. Thankfully I trusted my initial instincts and I’m so glad I did as this book is absolutely brilliant.
It’s packed full of action, political maneuvering and intrigue and has some incredible world building and a strong female main character. I can’t wait for the rest of the series.
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.
From the very first few pages when Vlad discovers his wife has given birth to a girl rather than the boy he wanted I was hooked. Lada may not be the boy her father wants, she’s unattractive, wild, violent and a little bit nuts but she’s determined and a fighter. She won’t settle for being ignored, married off or shipped off to a convent. She’s on a mission, initially to get her fathers attention and respect and when he betrays her to get power and freedom to do what she wants. I love a strong and determined female MC and Lada Dragwlya is definitely that. She may not always be the most likeable character but she’s brilliant to read.
This story isn’t only about Lada though as the chapters alternate between her and her younger brother Radu. He’s almost her opposite, handsome, studious and eager to please everyone he meets. He is very similar to Lada though in that his father ignores him, believing him to be a bit of a weakling and a coward. Being ignored and invisible does turn out to be a real talent for Radu though as he’s cunning and smart and, while Lada is impulsive and reckless, he observes and plans. His story in many ways is actually more interesting than Lada’s.
They do however complement each other brilliantly and I loved the alternating points of view. They have a complex love/hate relationship because they are so different and it makes for some fantastic reading. They’re forced to depend on each other a lot of the time but neither can ever fully trust the other. One minute they’re ready to kill each other the next one is saving the other. It’s a complicated and shifting relationship that I think a lot of siblings can probably relate to.
The story itself is wonderful. It’s described as a fantasy but it’s more of an alternate history as it re imagines the events in Eastern Europe in the 1400’s (note: there’s no magic in this book). It’s absolutely action packed and truly epic in scale at times. The author has done a fantastic job of building the world and the setting is impressive in it’s detail. I’m not generally a fan of historic fiction but this is a violent and immersive world that makes for great reading. I should add another note here, there are some slightly gruesome bits but given it’s an alternate version of Vlad the Impaler it would have been odd if there wasn’t.
I should also add a warning that there is a bit of a love triangle but don’t worry it’s not your usual love triangle and doesn’t take over the book. There are actually a lot of different types of relationships and they are complex and constantly changing. The romance itself is a bit of a slow burn rather than insta love which is always a plus but so far I’m not 100% convinced there’s a real spark. I am however withholding judgement till the next book which I will definitely be reading the second it’s released.
If you love books with a strong female MC, fantastic world building and lots of action I would definitely recommend this. It reminded me a bit of The Diabolic (despite a completely different setting) which I also loved so if you enjoyed that I think you’ll like this.