This is the first book of a trilogy for young adults based on actual historical figures in the 15th Century but with considerable liberties taken. To name the most striking, the author imaged Vlad the Impaler as a female, renaming her Lada the Impaler. The author also conjures interrelationships between Lada, her brother Radu, and the future Ottoman sultan, Mehmed. [While, in real life, they grew up together in the Ottoman Courts, the author writes in her Afterword that “Just how much interaction the three would have had growing up in the Ottoman Courts together is unknown.”]
In historical accounts, Vlad and Mehmed are each either reviled or adored, depending on the source. The author avers she has tried “to carve out a middle ground” and to contemplate how they got to be the way they were.
While she does show the cruelty of the time and how it could affect children, this also means that you will be spending your reading time with some vicious, brutal characters.
Lada, who is the main protagonist, grew up with a tyrannical father and older brother, and a young, depressed, and withdrawn mother. Moreoever, while her younger brother Radu is known as “the beautiful,” Lada herself is considered to be ugly, not a good thing to be for a woman, especially in an era in which a woman’s body was about the only thing she could use to get power and/or protection.
As the story develops, Lada, Radu, and Mehmed all become very close, as the shifting nature of their relationship evolves and drives the plot. But the main theme is really that of survival, and how to manage it. As the character Tohin explains to Lada:
“If we were not pushing, fighting, claiming what is ours and challenging what is not yet ours, others would be doing it to us. It is the way of the world. You can be the aggressor, you can fight against crusaders on their own land, or you can stay at home and wait for them to come to you. And they would come. They would come with fire, with disease, with swords and blood and death. Weakness is an irresistible lure.”
. . . . Lada: ‘The price of living seems to always be death.’
Tohin stood…’And that is why you become a dealer of death. You feed death to as many people as you can to keep it full and content so its eye stays off you.’”
Alas, this book is ultimately all about feeding death.
Evaluation: This book is full of brutality, violence, abuse both physical and psychological, and war. While there will be more books in the series, I plan to eschew the rest of the story. It has gotten some very good reviews, but it’s too dark for me.
Published in the U.S. by Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House, 2016