Now I Rise (The Conqueror’s Saga #2)
by Kiersten White, audiobook narrated by Fiona Hardingham
Published June 2017
From Goodreads: Lada Dracul has no allies. No throne. All she has is what she’s always had: herself. After failing to secure the Wallachian throne, Lada is out to punish anyone who dares to cross her blood-strewn path. Filled with a white-hot rage, she storms the countryside with her men, accompanied by her childhood friend Bogdan, terrorizing the land. But brute force isn’t getting Lada what she wants. And thinking of Mehmed brings little comfort to her thorny heart. There’s no time to wonder whether he still thinks about her, even loves her. She left him before he could leave her.
What Lada needs is her younger brother Radu’s subtlety and skill. But Mehmed has sent him to Constantinople—and it’s no diplomatic mission. Mehmed wants control of the city, and Radu has earned an unwanted place as a double-crossing spy behind enemy lines. Radu longs for his sister’s fierce confidence—but for the first time in his life, he rejects her unexpected plea for help. Torn between loyalties to faith, to the Ottomans, and to Mehmed, he knows he owes Lada nothing. If she dies, he could never forgive himself—but if he fails in Constantinople, will Mehmed ever forgive him?
As nations fall around them, the Dracul siblings must decide: what will they sacrifice to fulfill their destinies? Empires will topple, thrones will be won . . . and souls will be lost.
(Caution, spoilers ahead. I can’t figure out how to talk about this book without spoiling 565 years’ worth of history)
It often happens that the second book of a trilogy will be the weakest entry. After so much energy is spent building a world and characters in Book One and even more spent on the climax and denouement of the whole thing in Book Three, the second book tends to feel like the overlooked middle sibling that has the sad task of linking the beginning and the end while its own accomplishments are relatively forgotten.
Book three of Kiersten White’s Conqueror’s Saga has not been published yet, but I have to wonder how she will follow up the fall of the Byzantine Empire.
In And I Darken, we see how the two Dracul children– Lada and Radu– came to be the way they are. Lada, a fierce warrior resents her femininity while Radu, her handsome younger brother feels out of place in the combative world he has been born to. Both siblings fall in love with Mehmed, an Ottoman prince who ultimately ascends the throne, very nearly leaving both Lada and Radu behind.
Having left Mehmed behind to lay claim to the throne of her homeland, Wallachia, Lada has sacrificed her comfort and security, heading into the wilderness with her faithful band of soldiers who will follow her to hell and back. But without the support of the region’s nobility or Mehmed himself, Lada finds that it is far more difficult to achieve her goals than she thought.
Meanwhile, Radu remains in Mehmed’s court, doing the young sultan’s work in secret as he puts together the army they hope will bring down the ancient walls of Constantinople. With this work, he hopes to secure the Byzantine capitol for his beloved Mehmed– as well as a permanent place at the sultan’s side. His loyalty to both Lada and Mehmed is tested, however, when Mehmed sends him to act as a double agent within the walls of Constantinople as the Ottoman army descends on the city.
While both Lada’s and Radu’s stories are intriguing on their own, I was more interested in Radu this time around, given his task for most of the story and my own interest in Byzantine history and the empire’s capitol of Constantinople. During my college Byzantine history class, we studied the empire’s fall, though we did not to into a lot of detail about the siege of Constantinople, only its decline and the consequences of its fall.
It was fascinating to see how Radu dealt with the dueling parts of his nature. He began his life as a Christian, but converted to Islam in his teens. He is in love with Mehmed, but still loves his sister. He comes to care for people within the walls of Constantinople, but is duty-bound to aid in its destruction. The war within his own heart is nearly as destructive as the war between the Ottomans and the Byzantines, and I was curious to see how it would change his perception of Mehmed. They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, but when treachery and war stand between two people, absence may make the heart turn against those they are fond of.
Far from Constantinople, Lada is learning that power is not an easy thing to get hold of. Her men, Wallachian natives and former Janissery slaves of the Ottomans are loyal to her, but no one else will take her seriously because of her gender. Always, the men in power are trying to find her a husband when Lada has no desire to marry anyone. Her path to power leads through treachery, betrayal, and ever more brutality. When Radu does not come at her call, Lada must find a way to gain allies without her brother’s gift of politics until, realizing that she cannot fight a war with weapons she does not have, Lada resorts to what she knows- threats and violence that escalate until she commits an atrocity that causes even her most loyal followers to balk.
While I was captivated by the majority of Now I Rise, there were some things I found off-putting:
- Radu’s incessant mooning over Mehmed. It seemed as though every other paragraph had Radu yearning for Mehmed’s praise or regard or respect or straight up love, and then Radu deciding that Mehmed could never return his love, only to have the whole cycle start over again. Once he reached Constantinople, the refrain was, “how can I serve Mehmed from so far away, and how can I do it so he will keep my by his side forever?”. It grew tiresome in short order.
- Nazira was a constant delight and was usually cleverer than Radu, but White seemed to have less and less use for her as the story progressed, except as a plot point for Radu, when the end came nearer and he needed to remind himself that people were counting on him.
I am looking forward to the third installment in The Conqueror’s Saga, Bright We Burn, which is due out in June. This begins the history we in the West see as a little more legendary- when Vlad Tepes was fighting the Ottoman Empire and impaling tens of thousands of men across the fields of Wallachia. Thanks to Bram Stoker, we equate him with vampires and devilry, but in Romania Vlad Dracul has become something of a national hero. He was the man who defended Christendom against the onslaught of the Ottoman Turks, after all, and kept Christianity alive in what is now Romania. I wonder if White will lean toward one side or the other– Lada the Impaler, or Lada the savior of Christendom– or will she keep a balance between the two views of this intriguing, if frightening, historical figure? Time will tell, but I’m looking forward to the next chapter in this story.