In 1454, conflict between the once-inseparable Lada, Radu, and Mehmed comes to its inevitable bloody fruition.
Prince Lada Dracul consolidates her power to stand against the Ottoman Empire’s demand that Wallachia return to being a vassal state. She does this both by stirring up trouble in other states and by her usual brutal violence—so brutal that Sultan Mehmed, busy rebuilding newly-conquered Constantinople, must respond. Meanwhile, Radu struggles with his part in Constantinople’s fall and his guilt over Nazira and Cyprian, who vanished after sailing away. To bring Lada to heel, Mehmed sends Radu to capture her so they can negotiate; Lada also plans to kidnap Radu, viewing him as fundamentally hers. Neither gets what they want. The subsequent invasion features force that is massive on Mehmed’s part and depraved on Lada’s. Mehmed may have the money and numbers (compared to Lada’s shaky alliances), but Lada is clever, terrifying, and has cultivated a near-worship among the peasants whose lots she’s improved—even as she turns her country into a giant deathtrap. Politics, battle strategy, and betrayals thrill, while the toxic dynamic keeps the focus on the intrinsically linked trio. Most characters are Central or Eastern European or Turkish; Islam has a positive portrayal, as do same-sex relationships.
An intense, engrossing read that never loses sight of its passionate characters’ humanity, especially when they’re at their worst. (map, dramatis personae, glossary, author’s note) (Historical fiction. 15-adult)