The spouse of Vlad the Impaler takes center stage in Bardot’s (Legends of Lust, 2019) novel.
There are abundant stories surrounding Vlad Dracula, the brutal, real-life prince of Wallachia who inspired Bram Stoker’s Dracula. In a unique take on this well-known figure, Bardot depicts Vlad’s story through the eyes of his wife, Ilona, a courageous, intelligent young woman whose cousin is the king of Hungary. The narrative chronicles Vlad and Ilona’s marriage, a love match that’s also politically expedient. Their relationship is full of emotional extremes and constant maneuvering as Ilona struggles to stay in the mercurial prince’s good graces and keep his attention, both as a confidante and as a lover. Bardot does an excellent job of portraying Ilona’s metamorphosis from a naïve young maiden to a wife who’s determined to hold on to her husband even as their evolving relationship chips away at her beliefs, morals, religion, and identity: “I did not tame the beast,” she reflects, “far from it. My husband released the beast within me.” As Ilona comes to grips with her dark side, Bardot offers the reader an unflinching account of Vlad’s brutal past. Overall, Bardot’s novel is a complex work of historical fiction that touches on politics, religion, battle strategy, and cultural mores. It also doesn’t shy away from scenes of explicit violence and passion. The author mainly details Ilona’s present-day life while leaving her background largely unrevealed. However, the narrative also jumps around in time, piecing together Vlad’s history in a series of flashbacks; it’s a journey that began with an unsettled child who was held captive and ends with a fierce, unforgiving warrior prince who’s obsessed with power and revenge. In the end, although Vlad’s story is indeed interesting, it’s Ilona’s that will truly capture readers’ imaginations. A more detailed author’s note that separates fact from fiction would have been a helpful addition, though.
A dark, detailed tale about the making of a fearless woman.