The Dracul siblings experience power’s price in this middle volume of a trilogy that imagines a female Vlad the Impaler.
Despite Sultan Mehmed’s initial backing, Lada has made little ground in securing the Wallachian throne. She writes Radu a letter asking for his assistance, as she lacks his interpersonal strengths and way with courtly politics. Radu, however, desperate to close the distance between himself and Mehmed, prioritizes romantic love. Lada must make her own (violent) way as she struggles to be seen, and she makes her own dark choices on both sides of tough betrayals. Meanwhile, Mehmed sends Radu away to Constantinople as a double agent right before launching a brutal siege. This puts Radu (and Radu’s wife, Nazira, a believer in Mehmed’s cause since her true wife suffered greatly at the hands of crusaders) in position to sabotage Constantinople but also to admire enough of the people for it to hurt. The siege’s depiction is viscerally painful—brutality and atrocities from both sides shake Radu deeply. The complex politics and sprawling world make for a dense, rich read. Human nature’s contradictory depictions are exquisite and painful. Tender-hearted Radu cares for Lada, but it’s brutal Lada who loves Radu; and great, good people commit terrible acts. The multiethnic cast features strong LGBTQ representation and nuanced religious diversity. Lada, Radu, and Mehmed are well on their way to remake the world—but at the cost of their souls.
Absolutely devastating in the best way. (dramatis personae, glossary, author’s note, acknowledgments) (Historical fiction. 15-adult)