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.
Description taken from Goodreads. I received an advance copy of this book, to be published June 27th, 2017, via the publisher in exchange for an honest review. These opinions are my own.
It’s not without its faults, but I love Now I Rise with all my heart for its complexity, for its phenomenal supporting cast, for the way it induces both undeniable hatred and unfailing empathy for the main characters in me. I needed a book to really get me back into the practice of reading, of getting to know characters and worlds and live in them in new and unexpected ways. Now I Rise did just that for me. All things considered, I regard it as Kiersten White’s finest work to date, and I’m so glad that I got the opportunity to read it before its release.
Even so, it wasn’t all smooth sailing. Now I Rise started off pretty dry for me. It took a while to put names to faces and get my timeline correct (both in terms of the plot and the history behind the story), and I wasn’t too psyched about the idea of struggling through almost 500 pages of a story I only vaguely understood. Because I loved the first one so much, I went on without remembering much, and it eventually started coming back to me in bits and pieces. The longer I went, I also noted the way White drops brief segments of essential backstory in for anyone who doesn’t remember. That doesn’t mean you should read this book without reading the first one–this isn’t one of those series by any means–but don’t be afraid to trek into this one if you don’t completely remember the first.
The parts I was most impressed by in And I Darken, the first book of this series, had to do with the ways it pushed the characters and explored history just about seamlessly, and in Now I Rise, White’s managed to focus almost solely on those aspects to the story. She focused almost exclusively on the development of the main characters without losing the story, setting, or supporting characters. In doing so, she took me on a journey to see Radu and Lada, and history itself, at their very limits. I’ve never really seen this kind of historical fiction accomplished within a book, much less in YA, and it was incredible to watch.
In this one, I definitely came to side with Lada. It wasn’t easy. I went back and forth numerous times, and it makes it harder to think that it could down to Lada vs Radu, but I would still choose Lada. It’s not a perfect choice, and I think White was playing on the difficulty between the two when she decided to end Now I Rise the way she did: with heart-wrenching brutality on both sides. In fact, I can’t completely justify why I would choose Lada over any other option, but I think it has to do with how much she endeared herself to me throughout the course of the story. Considering that both sides are vicious and both sides used each other, all that there’s left is effectiveness. If history is any way of predicting, I feel like she can create something truly great in Wallachia. Catherine the Great and Peter the Great were terribly ruthless, but they ushered in modern-day Russia. Besides, in comparing the way that Lada deals with empathy and the way that Radu deals with empathy, I can honestly say that in that world, I’d rather be killed by Lada’s sword than Radu’s kindness.
If I remember correctly, history stands against Lada, but screw it. I hope that she comes out of it all okay. At this point, I can’t bring myself to hate either side, and I think that’s one of the greatest impacts an author has the ability to effect.
However, that’s not to say I lost my affection for Radu. In fact, that affection became something more. I stopped just pitying him and actually felt the weight of his mistakes and confusion. Even more so than with Lada, I was blown away by how much my view of Radu changed. In the beginning, I respected him for his prowess in the court and felt for his personal struggles, but in the end, he was more than just a list of attributes to me. He became his own person, and I rooted for him, especially in the second half of the book. I wanted him to make his own decisions. I wanted him to break away from the toxic loyalty that’s one of the only things that defines him as the man he’s grown up to be. Just as desperately as he wished that he could, I wished that he could go back to the time when he could follow that loyalty without ghosts in his closet and blood on his hands.
The inevitably of these characters’ predicaments is what grabbed me and showed me a maturity in writing that’s difficult to write and even more difficult to find. They want to be different, but they can’t be anything but inherently flawed. Despite that, they still find faith, love, and hope in each other, and we as readers find those things in those characters.
A short note on the supporting cast before I go on: they are glorious. For the most part, anyway. I especially loved Lada’s men. There could’ve been a lot of meaningless drama and filler there, but White chose to make it about loyalty and shared purpose. In doing so, she unveiled much of Lada’s capacity to love outside of Radu and Mehmed, which was refreshing to see.
Mehmed felt like more of a supporting character in this one, which was marginally disappointing. I was hoping for more from him, but he seems to be destined to be a pawn between Radu and Lada. But who knows? The ending sequences between him and Radu were pretty intriguing, and I’d interested in seeing what happens now that the honeymoon period is 120% over. Now that I think about it, Mehmed did develop over time, almost like White was growing his character through what we see of Radu and Lada. It’s an unorthodox approach, but I’m looking forward to seeing where it leads.
The plot and pacing were the other parts of the story that were a little hard to swallow for me, mainly because there was always a POV that I wanted to read more than the other. It did alternate who I wanted to see more, but that one chapter was more consistently more interesting than the next wore on me and slowed the pace of the book. I do think that this book had to be around as long as it was to get the character development that we did, especially when it comes to the way Radu changes at the end, but the execution could’ve been better.
Overall though, an incredible story. Strangely enough, even though I felt like it was far less broad in what it tried to achieve than And I Darken, I thought it covered more in the subtleties like the fragility of promises and the claws and teeth on the beast we try to call love. If all historical fiction were like this, I would be reading the genre far more, and I’ll definitely be recommending this one.