4 out of 5
I received an ARC of this work.
This will contain spoilers for the first book in the saga, And I Darken.
The majority of the first book focused on the relationship between Lada and Radu, as they both are held captive in the Ottoman Empire to guarantee their father’s best behaviour. It showed us their childhood and development together. In this sequel they are separated and it takes on a more political tone and focuses more on their independent growth.
Lada’s father and brother are killed, and since Radu is not willing to leave Mehmed’s side and rule, she wants to become prince of the country as she is next in line. Unfortunately, as a woman, no one is willing to accept her. She is not going to ask for help from the Sultan or her brother, so she grabs some soldiers and starts cutting a rather bloody path across the territory between Ottoman -controlled land and Wallachia to grab the throne anyways. She does manage to gain some allies eventually, but her main point of negotiation is the one found at the end of a sword. This remains very characteristic of her.
Radu does not accept the throne of Wallachia or want to accompany his sister more than staying next to the Sultan Mehmed. It seemed safer at the time, but the Sultan’s lust for the city of Constantinople drives Radu into the role of spy within its walls. The subsequent battle start bringing out the more vicious side of Mehmed. While Radu has always treasured Mehmed and loved him, seeing how far he will go to bring a city to its knees makes him question what his love for this man is worth, and how far the Sultan’s ambitions should go. It also puts his life in peril as he is now trapped in a city under siege.
Because of the split of the siblings, this novel really reads like two books crammed into one. One plot line is the Ottoman Empire attacking the city of Constantinople, trying to starve it out and force the Emperor Constantine to surrender it. The second plot line is Lady Lada Dracul travelling through Wallachia and the surrounding country, attacking various European countries and trying to find allies in the Wallachian nobility and gain the throne. It is interesting because one plot line is a HUGE historical point of a major city changing hands between empires and religious powers and the other is a tiny country changing princes when it does so alarmingly frequently. It is definitely a contrast in historical events.
The siblings are still greatly juxtaposed personalities even though they are now geographically separated and growing older. Radu is a gentle soul, filled with love who only goes on this mission out of loyalty for the person he adores most. Lada is tempestuous and passionate and REALLY likes stabbing things. They have a weird relationship for two people who really have nothing in common.
My favourite part of this novel was actually the attention drawn to the attack on Constantinople. I liked seeing what sort of technology they used to try and bring down a city in the 1400s. Apparently they had cannon big enough to fling 600 lb cannonballs at the wall, but it overheated at one point and exploded. Fire, arrows, shields and ships were involved. The entrance to the harbour was blocked using a huge chain, but the ships got around it by being transported over land on logs.
This was a really good second book in a saga because it developed the characters further and expanded its perspective. Please go read, especially since it looks at a historical event that does not get a lot of attention!