This will be a long post (sorry), but that’s because it’s a three for one special! I pretty much binge read this trilogy, so instead of doing a separate post for each, I’m giving them to you all at one time. I’ll separate my reviews for the three books very clearly, so you can read as far as you want. I tried to avoid spoilers, but the later reviews might have some insights that would give things away for earlier books. Maybe. But hopefully not! (Also, in case you were wondering before we start, in an overall sense, I super enjoyed this trilogy.)
Prologue: I knew very little about Vlad the Impaler prior to reading this. In fact, I pretty much was only aware of him insofar as his relation to vampire stories is concerned. (I have a huge soft spot for vampires.) Anyways, I read this whole trilogy before looking into the real history, so as not to have anything colored/given away ahead of time. And now that I’ve finished and am reading more about the real Vlad and the history of himself, his brother Radu, Mehmed and the whole Wallachia/Ottoman Empire situation of the time, I have to say, I think White did a phenomenal job adapting and embellishing the story without straying too far from the main facts/events of these people’s histories. Honestly, I’m perhaps even more impressed now, after comparing this fictional account with reality (as per Wikipedia…bear in mind that this is not an extensive study, haha) than I was after finishing but before researching more. There are naturally some detours from actual historical accounts (of course, and obviously, the biggest being that our “Vlad” is female), but the weaving of history and fiction was done with a lot of finesse to create a fuller, satisfying story. Just…a very impressive retelling.
“I am no longer the daughter of the dragon…I am the dragon.”
What a great, broody, intriguing start to a trilogy. This has all the elements of an awesome YA [historical fiction] trilogy: political drama, budding romances (both hetero and homo), betrayal, secrets, and lots of emotional ups and downs. First, let me just say that I LOVE this historical recasting of Vlad the Impaler to be a lady, Lada the Impaler. And both Vlad’s story and the Ottoman Empire are, for me, fascinating parts of history. I’m also enjoying the way Islam is portrayed, from various lenses, by the different characters, and how that plays both for them individually and into the larger story. So altogether, lots of reasons to love this book. For an opener, I felt like this book did a fantastic job setting up the rest of the story. And that’s not to say it was not interesting in its own right. The relationship building among Lada, Radu and Mehmed, along with many of the other side characters, like Huma, Halil Pasha, Nicolae, Bogdan, Kumal and Nazira, was phenomenal, both on interpersonal levels and related to political gain/maneuvering. Seeing how everything started for these characters, how they all met, and how they grew into who/what they are now…it just sets the stage perfectly for what is coming. And to that point, I love where this book ended. It has definitely got me ready to jump into the next one; emotionally loaded and on the verge of big things, but without being overly/unnecessarily cliffhanger-y (which is one of my biggest pet peeves in series – you can create a reason for me to want to read on without overdoing it, but anyways…). Lada has made her decisions and is poised to take up a major mantel, fighting (impressively) against everything it means to be a woman in that day and age. Mehmed is similarly poised, ready to strike out after his destiny…and a little heartbroken too, I would think (I’m interested to see how that plays out). And Radu, probably the character my heart hurts for the most, is stuck in the middle of everything – my feels for him are real. But he too is starting to come into his own, which I’m totally down with. Overall, I cannot wait to read more about one of my new favorite heroines in what is, so far, a great historical retelling/embellishment. Lada is badass, brutal, sure of herself (even if it’s sometimes to a fault), and just an awesomely strong lady. And this exploration of the lives of some of history’s most debated characters, and how they became the legends they are today, has got me hooked.
“…she, too, was grateful for who she was. She would not wish any part of herself away.”
Well this was a very satisfying book two. The story of Lada and Radu and Mehmed that was set up in book one was amazingly extended here. First, I love the change of focus, as the three end up separate and are able to develop as characters independent of their joint personality. It makes the pacing really interesting, because there are many moments of great drama and violence, but with the evolution of the roles and lives of the characters, it doesn’t seem to be fast-paced drama and violence. Actually, as I think back, I almost wrote that it was a slower read, but realized that for how much happened, that would not really be fair. I don’t even know how to describe it, but it was the right style for this part of the story, without doubt. For Mehmed, that means we actually just get a lot less of him in this book. I would have been disappointed in that, if you had told me before I started, but I actually loved the way things progressed and didn’t miss him as much as I would have expected. For Lada and Radu, the character development is just gorgeously thorough and complex. We see the vicious bloodiness really grow in Lada, to lengths that are so extreme but so true to her character and the history of Vlad the Impaler. And I LOVE that ruthlessness in a woman. It terrifying and refreshing to read. For Radu, his natural tenderness and intelligence is truly tested in this book, and we see that his exposure to kindness outside of Mehmed creates a complicated situation for him, emotionally, that maybe will break his heart, but also may give him the relief from his heart’s previously confining connections. As far as romantic relationships, I think the minimal explorations here are perfect for the story. Ignoring that part of “growing up” is disingenuous (in my opinion) but having it be completely central in a story like this one would also not be correctly representative. White walked that line nicely. Additionally, the way she looks at some of the extra “lady” issues that Lada has, ones that for sure have to be dealt with, are not ignored. I really appreciate that. But also they do not stop her own discomfort with the topics or prevent her from following her dark path to power. (See, you can do both.) Last, I am super interested in seeing where some of our new characters go from here, like Cyprian and Daciana. They were great additions to the story. The ending was a great moment of closure and standing on the precipice of what comes next – I enter the last installment with excitement and apprehension in equal measure. These characters and their stories are fascinating and so fully developed and I am holding out hope for a fireworks-filled finale!
“She did not know if she would be weaker for it. She decided she would not be.”
Well I got the spectacular conclusion I was hoping for! This was a brutal, bloody, nonstop end. And I loved the way the story worked out. As I had mentioned in the second book, things really moved away from the “trio” as a single unit and looked at each of them separately. In this final book, the focus truly shifts to Lada and Radu and, while Mehmed still plays large role (both in the present and in relation to what the three of them were in the past), his story is more in how it relates to the Draculs’ development that on it’s own/from its own perspective. While I would of course have loved more from him, I felt like the shift was naturally done and I don’t feel like this particular story is missing anything because of it. And really, it makes sense. Lada and Radu were the story from the start, and thus everything needed to finish back with them. Probably one of my favorite things was the no holds barred ruthlessness of Lada. It is refreshing and strangely empowering to follow a female character like that – one who makes the hard choices for power without regard to personal consequence. And though we get to see how that affects her emotionally, of course, her strength to push through and continue to make those choices without capitulating to feeling was wonderful to see. I mean, horrifying at times too, but my respect goes to the author for creating such a bloodthirsty leading lady. Especially one for whom the acts, although they get ever more gruesome (and are perhaps partially exacerbated by personal feelings) are truly carried out in pursuit of the greater goal/the benefit of the people and country that Lada loves so much. She never loses sight of that end game. On the flip side, I loved Radu’s more tender personality. Although he works in service to/of Mehmed and Lada, he spends this book really growing into his own character, realizing where he must draw lines and where he is not willing to go. Also, I love how he comes to accept that his personality traits that are so different from Lada and Mehmed’s need for power and “do anything for it” attitudes, are in fact strengths in their own right. And in fact, they would help him reach the same end, if that were what he wanted. And I am so unbelievably happy that he gets the ending he gets. He deserves it more than anyone. Lada and Radu were just…phenomenal flipsides of the same coin, sibling opposites, yet so true to their own beliefs/wants with an unwillingness to change/bend that was the perfect connecting shared trait. And in the end, they way they leave each other is a beautiful illustration of them both having grown up. They both made compromises, but never once looked away from their individual end goals. Their personalities matured, but never swayed. Although there were some sad losses, there were also some beautiful moments (both of which made me tear up a bit). Specifically, I’d like to mention Daciana’s story – and her own strength which, while different from Lada’s, was just as unflagging and got her exactly the ending she wanted for herself. I loved that. And while perhaps some things seemed to fall out a little too perfectly at the end, I cannot lie and say I wasn’t hoping for that type of ending. I was too invested in the story to want something else (and it’s not completely unrealistic, by any means). Overall, I was very happy with this final installation and ending to the Dracul story.
Altogether, this was a thoroughly entertaining and fascinatingly detailed historical/political fiction trilogy from an author who did a wonderful job re-framing history while simultaneously tossing some YA themes and gender stereotypes on their heads.