Thursday, August 23, 2018

NOW I RISE (The Conqueror's Saga #2) by Kiersten White

AUTHOR: Kiersten White -- Twitter | Website
PUBLISHED: June 27, 2017 by Delacorte (Penguin Random House)
GENRE: Young Adult, Historical Fiction, Fantasy
PAGES: 471
Find it on 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.

After finishing And I Darken, I immediately dove into Now I Rise.

Lada, recently awarded the role of prince of Wallachia by Mehmed himself has embarked on a journey back to Tirgoviste, leaving Radu behind as Mehmed's singular focus, Constantinople, and a war with the Byzantines looms on the horizon.

Radu is feeling both a little abandoned and more than a little ignored and even slightly skeptical of Mehmed, but still has an undying devotion to him. When a team of Byzantine ambassadors visits Edirne, Radu once again crosses paths with Cyprian, someone he'd met previously and who he felt a certain pull towards and this time, is pushed towards him.

Things get a little spoilery here, so look out ... 

When things for Radu and Mehmed seem even worse, Mehmed asks the ultimate favor of Radu: Go to Constantinople, work as a spy as Mehmed prepares to go to war and be on the inside as a resource once the war arrives at the walls of the city. Unable to deny him this request, he and Nazira are forced to lie to Cyprian, begging for exile in Constantinople and flee into the night, bound for the city Mehmed is so desperate to ravage and take for his own, leaving Fatima, Nazira's wife (spiritually, that is, since Islam does not recognize the marriage between men and men and women and women) behind at their estate to keep her safe. Mehmed gives Radu all the free reign in the world to tell Constantine what their plans are -- that he knows of -- anything to ingratiate with the emperor.

Cyprian graciously gives them a room in his home and as he is the nephew of Constantine himself, Radu immediately has Constantine's ear and divulges everything he knows.

Meanwhile, in Wallachia, Lada is finding it much more difficult than she thought it would initially be to install herself as prince. So she resorts to other tactics -- mainly bloody ones or ones that involve property destruction. But a tide turns for her when she meets a farm full of women, many of whom are pregnant, and who were all abused by their boyar (the supposed nobility of Wallachia). And once she kills him, she gives the land to the peasant women -- and one joins her side. Another character from the past, Oana, Lada and Radu's nurse (and Bogdan's mother) is found and joins the caravan. Gradually, everywhere they go, they free more peasants, kill more boyars, and their caravan grows into a parade, made up of loyal followers to her and troops not just made up of her own, but those who swear their allegiance to her along the way. But at every turn, there is another man who she has to placate, for some reason or another, whether it's a leg up or for some other advantage. And every time she has to convince them that she is far better suited for things other than a marital alliance.

There are a few interesting concepts that are explored throughout Now I Rise and a couple of those are ones that extend from its predecessor, And I Darken.

First, the idea that a woman can be a leader -- the feminist message is even stronger in Now I Rise, especially given that Lada has bestowed land to peasant women. Lada doesn't just take up feminism for herself, but for those she intends to rule as well.

It also examines the grey area between right and wrong, good and bad, righteous and evil.

In this book, we see Lada take some extremes to get to the throne and get where she wants to go, including having all the heirs to the throne killed so that no one could challenge her rule. But we also see her goodness when she shows mercy to peasants, people who had never before been given even the slimmest chance.

We also see Radu torn between two men, two leaders, in Constantine and Mehmed. Radu himself calls them good men, but who had done terrible things. And for Radu, the line is even further blurred when he realizes a possibility in Cyprian, who he has realizes may finally allow him to love someone and be loved back in a way Mehmed never could. He fights alongside Cyprian, he finds himself attached to some of the Byzantines, and is horrified by the things he's seen in battle. Yet he still considers both Constantine and Mehmed to be good men. In a place where things seem very black and white, he is part of the grey matter.

And once again, we see Lada and Mehmed collide, which is what the only way they seem to find each other. After a night spent together, Mehmed offers her the title of empress, she is not swayed and still wants Wallachia for her own and to lead by her own standards and not because of any man, but because she is the best for it, something that Mehmed never fully comprehends. Lada wants to shatter her own glass ceiling, not be put on a pedestal by Mehmed. And so she chooses her own path, her own throne, her own way -- like so many feminists, in literature and in real life. She chooses herself and her abilities -- which is really kind of awesome, even though she does have a tendency to leave a little destruction in her wake.

Now I Rise is absolutely a worthy follow up to And I Darken in every way. I gave it 5 HEARTS!

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