5 out of 5 stars.
I received an ARC of this book.
Wow did I ever enjoy this historical fiction. Set in 15th century Romania, it features a brother and sister duo who get ransomed to the Ottoman court to assure their father’s continued compliance to a treaty.Both struggle with the culture and politics of the powerful Muslim empire.
The best part of this book is how unique and well written the characters are. Lada is a princess who hates that she was ever born a woman. She will fight her way out of any situation, even those that do not require fighting and longs for her father’s approval. She is rude, brusque, and takes a tough love approach to her brother. It is hard to like her as a person, but easy to empathize with when you get to know why she acts the way she does.
Radu is sensitive and thoughtful, a constant disappointment to his war-mongering father and violent sister. He wants someone who will empathize and comfort him, but no one in his family has any tendency towards kindness. While Lada finds their imprisonment by the Ottoman’s to be a complete betrayal by their father, Radu starts to flourish. Now his intelligence and amiability are an advantage, and when he and his sister befriend the heir to the sultanate, Radu is able to be of use, politically.
The plot focuses on Lada and Radu navigating the political spiderweb that is the Ottoman Court, flying underneath the radar to avoid execution and building lives in a religion and culture that is strange to them. The book has little straight up action, but quite a bit of intrigue and plotting. Since the two main characters are so dissimilar, we get to see the Empire both through the eyes of a combatant and a thinker. There is a lot of character growth and introspection and, even if you do not agree with the decisions the character’s make, it is still enjoyable to watch them try to find their places.
The time period this novel is set in was a huge plus, since there are few, if any, YA books written about the 1400s and the Ottoman empire. The tension between Christian Europe and the Muslim Ottoman’s is a central theme in the book, and I thought the historical details were done well. I am not an authority on this period in history, but I know a bit an everything seemed fairly authentic. The details gave everything a rich, lush feel to it.
This is a fantastic novel that pulls you in and makes you care about the characters. It is unique, both in the historical time period and the geographic location, and does political intrigue/ political thriller in a way that very few YA authors are able to do. I would highly recommend this book.