Friday 2 June 2017

Now I Rise (The Conqueror's Saga #2), Kiersten White

She was not a lady. She was a dragon and this whole country would know it before the end. 
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. 
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.  

* * * *
4 / 5 

And I Darken was one of my favourite reads of 2016 and, as such, I had very high hopes for Now I Rise. Whilst it is an excellent book with two excellent and engaging main characters, Lada and Radu, I found Radu's sections to be longer and less interesting than Lada's. The book suffered a touch from "middle book syndrome", but overall I absolutely enjoyed this. Also the cover (US edition, I think) is one of the most beautiful covers I have ever seen.

She thought that she would be enough. She knew now that nothing she could do would ever be enough. She had only these sharp men and sharp knives and sharp dreams, and no way to make use of any of them.

We pick up the narrative with Lada having left Radu and Mehmed to return to Wallachia with her recently freed Wallachian Janissaries. Radu remained in Edirne, having infiltrated the inner circle of Halil Pasha who is secretly allied to Constantinople, to spy on behalf of Mehmed who is now the Sultan. Mehmed is consumed by the desire to fulfil a prophecy, for the Ottoman empire to retake Constantinople which is currently held by Christians after a Crusade.

Lada Dracul wants to be Prince of Wallachia. For some reason, none of boyars or powerful men she meets will support her claim. So Lada and her men take up arms with Hunyadi of Hungary, the man who was responsible for the deaths of her father and older brother, Mircea. I loved the interactions between Lada and Hunyadi, and between Lada and her close-knit group of men: Bogdan, Petru, Nicolae, Stephen. They are friends, brothers-in-arms, and the only ones who take Lada, the Dragon of Wallachia, seriously. Her arc is purely about claiming the throne, and I definitely preferred her chapter's to Radu's.

The world will destroy her in the end. Too much spark leads to explosions.

Lada is even more brutal than before. She kills. She orders her men to kill. She has sex. She liberates the downtrodden and assassinates and murders whoever stands in her way. And it is still not enough. As a character, Lada is very close to my heart; she is not a man and she does not want to be one. But she wants the power of a man because the power of a woman is tied to the power of a man: a husband, a lover, a father. Lada Dracul picks up a knife, binds her chest, washes the blood from her underwear, and goes as a woman, as a soldier, to claim her throne. As a character, I am inspired and disgusted by her, I am impressed and I pity her, and I applaud White for writing such a lovable, hateful, dynamic and interesting character.

Radu, on the other hand, is playing a political game of another nature. Married to Nazira, who is in love with her maid, loves Mehmed who loves his sister and uses Radu's love to manipulate him. All very complicated. Radu's arc is about politics, loyalty, love, and religion, and it is, like Radu, a more tender and slow-paced journey. When Mehmed asks Radu to go to Constantinople, to act as a spy and to attempt to disrupt their war effort, he goes reluctantly, Nazira in tow, with the ambassador, Cyprian who is a wonderful new character, to pledge allegiance to the imaginatively named Constantine. Whilst I did enjoy his chapters, I thought they were a bit slow and there was entirely too much focus throughout the whole book on Constantinople.

His duties to God. His duties to the Ottoman Empire. His duties to Mehmed.

I absolutely loved the dynamic between Radu and Nazira. She takes to the role of a spy like a duck to water, fishing information out of the wives of the army officers, and acting the role of the devoted and passionate wife in front of Cyprian. They are so caring together and Nazira speaks only sense to Radu about Mehmed, who is frankly quite unlikeable in this book. I have a lot of sympathy for Radu, who has had his heart broken and abused by Mehmed, who is still full of loyalty for the Ottoman empire but cannot bring himself to murder Constantine, who is by all accounts a good man. Gone is the burning passion for Jihad, for the claiming of the city. Radu has seen the reality of war and he is not fond of it, unlike his conquering sister. 

The writing was superb. A lot of the time I thought White's wording was beautiful and I liberally used the highlighter feature on my Kindle. I think it was better, more mature perhaps, than in And I Darken. Now I Rise does still suffer from a few peculiar writing choices - this is clearly an older teen or even adult book, judging by the amount of violence, pillaging, and rape going on, but White still uses some "childish" language. For example, Lada has sex a couple of times. The word "sex" is never used, however, (I just checked using the search function) it's always "down there" or some other weird vague terminology. It bugged me a little, but was the only writing complaint I have.

We saw everything that was not ours and we hungered.

Overall, I am so pleased I got to read an ARC of Now I Rise and I recommend it to everyone that has read And I Darken, and the entire series to anyone who has not read either book. Lada and Radu are such refreshing, novel, and heartfelt characters and I cannot wait to read more of them.

My thanks to Netgalley, the author, and the publisher for an ARC of this book.

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