“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.”
Lada has the literal best character introduction you could hope for, in her wet nurse’s prayer for her at her birth:
“Let her be strong.
Let her be sly.
And let her be ugly.”
The nurse’s prayers do not fall on deaf ears; Lada grows into 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 an incredibly fascinating read.
The writing is beautiful, though there is a lot of slow development following the characters through their childhoods, and nothing of any real note occurs until they enter their teen years. We mostly just see a lot of Lada becoming set in her violent ways, while Radu continues to be the belle of the ball, rinse and repeat.
Once I hit the halfway mark, though, the action picked up immediately. There is so much political build-up and intrigue to keep you guessing, and the twists are wonderful. There is a love triangle, but I promise that it’s unlike most love triangles you’ve read (maybe all of them), and absolutely blows the stereotype out of the water.
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 have to 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 to be… flawless, honestly. I adored Lada as a character; she is rude, demanding, and yet a fantastic leader. Kiersten White made no attempts to write a “likable” heroine, but that’s precisely what made me love her so damn much.