“A dragon did not crawl on its belly in front of its enemies, begging for their help. A dragon did not vow to rid the world of infidels, and then invite them into its home. A dragon did not flee its land in the middle of the night like a criminal.
A dragon burned everything around herself until it was purified in ash.”
Update 06.09.17: changed to 4 stars because this book has just stayed with me SO WELL, and I ramble about it to everyone so much, that I realized I think I loved it more than I gave it credit for even though I stand by my original assessment that the first half was horribly slow.
I had to sit and think on this book for a couple of weeks before typing up a review, because this was a hard one to wrap my thoughts around. I went into this book knowing nothing about it except what the synopsis offered and what one friend told me, which was, “It’s a gender-swapped Vlad the Impaler!” That was a pretty badass introduction to the idea of the book, so when I saw it on sale in the kindle store for $2, I had no excuse not to grab it. I loved historical fiction as a kid, but hadn’t touched the genre in a very long time, so I was a little bit timid to dip my toes back in.
The book begins with a prologue of sorts, as we actually get to experience Lada being born; the best introduction to her character that you could hope for is her wet nurse’s prayer for her:
“Let her be strong.
Let her be sly.
And let her be ugly.”
We very quickly learn that the wet nurse’s prayers were answered, as the book immediately progresses into a description of Lada as an unruly, angry, and unattractive child who gets what she wants by force; on the contrary, her younger brother, Radu, gets what he wants with his beautiful cherubic face and sweet words. The siblings couldn’t be any more different if they tried, so the alternating third-person perspectives make for what should be an extremely interesting read. Sadly, note that I said “should”…
Though the writing is beautiful and offers up the occasional gooseflesh-inducing quote, I just felt like nothing was happening for at least the first 30% of the book. There was a lot of slow development following the characters through their childhoods, and nothing of any real note occurred until they entered their teen years. We mostly just saw a lot of Lada becoming set in her violent ways, while Radu continued to be the belle of the ball, rinse and repeat. While the style definitely built up a solid understanding of who these characters were, it was so difficult to keep reading because I just found myself bored for a great deal of the time I spent reading the first large chunk of the book.
Once I hit the halfway mark, I will say that the action picked up very considerably, and I was really grateful that I stuck it out; enough interesting things started happening that it kept me guessing and wanting more, and some real twists came out of the woodwork regarding the siblings, none of which I will divulge much of here, as they’d certainly be spoilers (though they were things that I definitely began to see coming long before they were laid out in the text). There was a bit of a love triangle that was unlike any other romance I’ve ever read, so my hat’s off to Kiersten White for that tidbit. The ending thrilled me, and solidified my interest well enough that I will absolutely pick up the sequel, though I’m not sure I’ll rush to pre-order it.
On one final note, there’s something I want to touch on that I’ve seen in some other reviews: I’ve seen a handful of people say that they were disappointed in Lada, because they felt as though she lost her edge in the later chapters. I would like to wholeheartedly disagree with this, as her self-awareness and shame were more than enough to notate that she wasn’t losing her values and priorities, so much as simply developing as a character and a young woman. As someone who loved her tyrannical behavior, I found her development entirely believable and pleasing. To be frank, I almost gave this book 4 stars solely due to how much I adored Lada as a character; she is rude, uncouth, demanding, and a fantastic leader. Kiersten White made no attempts to write a “likable” heroine, and this fact is what made me love her so damn much. The feminist in me cheered for Lada at times, mourned for her at others, and above all else, realized that, if Lada were a woman in my life, I would be overjoyed to know her.