No one expects a princess to be brutal. And Lada Dragwyla likes it that way.
Ever since she and her brother were abandoned by their father to be raised in the Ottoman sultan’s courts, Lada has known that ruthlessness is the key to survival. For the lineage that makes her and her brother special also makes them targets.
Lada hones her skills as a warrior as she nurtures plans to wreak revenge on the empire that holds her captive. Then she and Radu meet the sultan’s son, Mehmed, and everything changes. Now Mehmed unwittingly stands between Lada and Radu as they transform from siblings to rivals, and the ties of love and loyalty that bind them together are stretched to breaking point.
The first of an epic new trilogy starring the ultimate anti-princess who does not have a gentle heart. Lada knows how to wield a sword, and she'll stop at nothing to keep herself and her brother alive.
A feminist re-telling of the history of Vlad the Impaler, I was immediately drawn to this before I even knew what it was about! But I was drawn in to the historical fiction/high fantasy vibe, the rich detailing of the history of the Ottoman Empire and its utterly badass heroine.
Straight out, Lada is a fascinating character. Determined to gain her father’s love, or even attention, Lada is a fierce and tough little girl. Also completely psychotic, Lada strives for physical power and develops a brutal fighting style, grows cold in her lack of affection and learns to only rely on herself. It got really interesting in the second half, once she’s grown up, a bit more… comfortable might be too strong a word but close enough, in her femininity. She still wants to be one of the men and brute strength is all she knows, so she never really knows how to use her femininity to her advantage like some of the other women do.
As children, Lada and Radu are starved of affection, they grow up knowing their father has traded them for safety and then later abandoned them for his own gain, and they quickly learn that they language and their people are slaves to the whim of the sultan. The two siblings had a strange relationship as Lada protects him without showing it, without showing weakness. But from Radu's perspective, we see how Lada’s toughness affects him, makes him feel unloved and how he finds comfort and falls in love with Islam – while Lada only trusts herself, Radu needs the security and peace that comes with faith.
Onto their new protector in foreign land and future sultan, Mehmed. Even though Mehmed had his idiotic moments (like thinking he could keep Lada safe from battle. Does he know her at all?! This is the same girl who has killed two men before they killed you! Idiot.), I really liked him. He desperately wanted to be a good leader and live up to his country’s expectations, plus he was a very good fighter and strategist, and friend to Lada and Radu. Speaking of, there was a different kind of love triangle, which would normally annoy me beyond belief but here I was so on-board with the diversity, it didn't have a chance to irritate me!
I wasn’t sure I wanted there to be a romance but they practically grew up together, it was almost inevitable. There were a few instances near the end as Mehmed proves that loving Lada doesn’t mean he isn’t going to… partake in his perks as sultan. Honestly, when a second child of his was born in mere months, I wanted to smack him upside the head! I hate to generalise but is it a teenage boy thing to only think with his dick? Because that’s what Mehmed was doing. And it annoyed the crap out of me. This is a tough case of modern feminist versus historical accuracy and luckily it worked, as I was really rooting for Mehmed and Lada towards the end.
All throughout, we are shown different types of power: physical strength and political know-how, which are as different as the two siblings who use them. The story was slow-moving as we see the shift in power, as Mehmed matures and learns how to control and provide faith in his people. It was very slow to start but the rich history, the incredible characters and their development, and the volatile time period it was depicting kept me hooked. And as you can see, I had a lot to say about it! It really was a coming-of-age beginning for Lada and I cannot wait to see how she grows into the fearless leader we recognise from history.
Published 7th July 2016 by Corgi.