Review: Now I Rise by Kiersten White

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Now I Rise by Kiersten White was a brilliant, dark, and brutal sequel to And I Darken. I always get a bit nervous that a sequel won’t live up to the first book: but this one slayed. Literally and figuratively.  Lada has never had any chill, but in Now I Rise, she basically has less than none. The book is a complex twist of wars and sieges, of triumph and loss, and it has so much character development that it just shines.

The story picks up where And I Darken left off: With Lada charging back to claim the Wallachian throne and become Prince, and Radu is still with Mehmed, pining for a love he will never be given until he ends up in the midst of the siege of Constantinople where he could very well die for his loyalty to Mehmed. It’s full of wars and battle and follows the siblings as they grow apart but severely miss each other, and also realise that Mehmed isn’t the golden perfect boy they always believed.

The characters are really the stand-out for this series! They are both clever and cunning, and Radu goes about it in an intellectual way while Lada uses force and brutality. Lada will cut her way to the throne and she empowers women and refuses to be underestimated, although she has to fight for every grain of respect.

Meanwhile Radu is just over here being small and perfect and pure. I absolutely adore him. He’s the kind of character who is so fiercely loyal and determined, but also hopelessly used by people he trusts — and it breaks your heart! I wanted more for Radu. He deserves better. But also his planning, cunning, and ability to never fail is absolutely astounding. I also thought his character development was stunning and well crafted.

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The book features a lot of the terrors of war and the price you pay to succeed. Either by capturing a city (for Mehmed’s forces) or getting a throne (for Lada and her rogue men). I love how it contrasted two types of battles! It’s not graphic with the gore, but it definitely makes sure you know this isn’t a pretty picnic. I also liked how it contrasted the two religions of Christianity vs Muslim. There’s no “good vs bad” here, as both religions are going to war for their Gods and thinking they’re doing the “right” thing…no matter how many innocents get slain in the way. I think religion is important to talk about in YA, so I’m glad the book focuses so much on them!

One of my favourite things too is how Radu and Lada thought of each other. They’re like half worlds away and they’re so DIFFERENT as people…but the spend a lot of time going: “Oh I miss [insert sibling here] but they don’t need me.” Both of them. Thinking this. They are silly little goats and I wish they’d work together!

I also appreciated the history of the settings! It’s not a 100% accurate historical retelling, but it is about Mehmed II and the fall of Constantinople. There are plenty of actual historical figures in the book, even if a lot of them have had some creative-license changes! So you can go in expecting to learn a bit, but also know this is a loose retelling. (Especially since Vlad the Impaler is actually a gender-swapped Lada.) And the details of the sieges and clothes and the first canons ever made were all stunning and just made the book so lush with details.

Overall, Now I Rise is a stunning sequel of stabbing and the darkness of humankind, all wrapped up in brilliant writing and winning characters! It has the kind of ending that leaves you screaming for the next book (um, how do we wait for next year…) and I’m desperate to see how it’ll all turn out. It’s fantastic and captivating and full of political and emotional intrigue.

Black YA

Three YA novels delve into the dark side:

BlackIn Black by Fleur Ferris (Penguin Randomhouse Australia), new student Aiden invites protagonist, Black, to the Year 12 formal. She thinks it’s a set-up because no one would invite her to the formal. Of course we are then hooked and want to discover why. Black is attractive. What has happened to make her untouchable? We do discover that three of her friends, Jess, Louis and Oscar have died. She is haunted by Father Ratchet, leader of the Pure Apostles cult, who has recruited Black’s former best friend and now enemy, Ged.

Black’s father is working in Antarctica and the local water plant and dams he normally oversees are being supervised by young man, Ed. Black works with him after school and this aspect of the story adds an interesting and suspenseful dimension. We learn some of the science (in an interesting way) and about the risk of poisoning the town’s water supply.

Fleur Ferris is an exciting new Australian talent. Her first published novel Risk recently co-won the YA category of the Sisters in Crime Davitt award. See Fleur’s interview here. Black is a fast paced, gripping read.

MaliceWith Malice by Eileen Cook (Hot Key Books) begins with Jill waking up in hospital. She has lost her memory of recent weeks and has serious injuries. Even worse, she is accused of deliberately killing her best friend Simone in a car accident. The two girls were part of a group travelling around Italy (there are some similarities with Melina Marchetta’s adult novel Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil  here). As well as hearing Jill’s point of view we are also given different perspectives by reading texts between Jill and Simone, police interview statements and forensic psychology reports. The ‘Justice for Simone’ blog shrilly asserts Jill’s guilt, dredging up old photos, rumours and comments out of context. The case against Jill accelerates until she faces extradition to Italy. It’s a superb psychological thriller: addictive and terrifying.

DarkenLike the other two books, I was transfixed by And I Darkenfirst in a new trilogy by Kiersten White (Corgi Books, Penguin Randomhouse). Lada is the unwanted daughter of Vlad Dracul. Born in 1434 in Transylvania she is the antithesis of the usual princess, using strength, brutality and intelligence to keep her younger brother and herself alive despite the conspiracies of court and kingdom. This is an original historical fantasy for older readers set mainly in the Sultan-ruled Ottoman Empire with references to exotic Constantinople and Byzantium, now Istanbul.

Review: And I Darken by Kiersten White

If you’re looking for a deadly brutal YA historical fiction retelling…And I Darken by Kiersten White is calling your name. Practically screaming it in a bloodthirsty way, let’s be honest. This book is incredible. It’s dark and accurately portrays how vicious the world was back in the 1400s. It’s also a9780552573740 gender-bent retelling of Vlad the Impaler! So instead of “Vlad” we have “Lada” (which is actually the feminine equivalent) who is terrifying and admirable. This book is totally the definition of EPIC.

The story follows the life of Lada. It starts off, literally, with her birth and then follows her briefly through childhood to the viciously terrifying teenager she becomes. She’s a wild girl who desperately wants the approval of her terrible father, Prince of Wallachia. Except her father ends up abandoning her to the Ottomans, as hostages basically, and she grows up estranged from her homeland and lost and alone. Except, of course, for her little brother: Radu. Radu is as thoughtful and kind and soft as Lada is tough and violent and raging. They clash like nothing else. Except they also care fiercely for each other. #siblings And they both perhaps fall in love with the young Sultan, Mehmed. Which is awkward considering Mehmed is Lada and Radu’s sworn enemy.

The story has a lot of political elements. It almost reminded me of Game of Thrones in that respect. Basically it is 90% about who is at war with who and who wants to stab and impale who (spoiler: EVERYONE WANTS TO STAB EVERYONE) and alliances and broken alliances and who gets the throne and etc. It was very interesting, although boarded on info-dumping several times. But it made me care about the characters at first, so the political and historical aspects (while a bit dry) didn’t get overly tedious.

It definitely features historical elements! Although, since it is historical fiction, some timelines have been moved and rearranged to create a faster-moving story. But I loved learning about the Ottoman culture and I didn’t know much about Vlad the Impaler before….and now I do! Huzzah!9780553522310

The characters were definitely the highlight. Often I read books where the book promises dark/vicious characters…but then all the character does is sneezes on a puppy and doesn’t apologise and it’s all very anti-climatic. Not so here! Lada is downright cruel. She stabs and bites and she’s feral and wild and basically amazing. Nothing gets her down. Although as the book goes on she does mature and develop as a character. Sometimes she even talks to people before immediately smacking them in the head. #progress Radu dual-narrates and he’s equally amazing to read about. Despite being labelled the “weak” one and constantly underestimated, he’s very clever and intelligent and collects information and uses it for blackmail. These two siblings were just so contrasted and intriguing that I couldn’t put the book down!

There is a love triangle, although it’s a muted one. Considering Radu refuses to admit his feelings for Mehmed and Lada would rather stab puppies than admit her feelings for Mehmed. The romance definitely features in the plot, but it doesn’t overwhelm things.

It is quite a long book, at 500-pages. I felt it could’ve been shorter and condensed some of the intense load of politics and focused more on the characters than the world. My favourite scenes were all the conversations between the trio: Lada, Radu, and Mehmed. They were all three so awesome and complex!

And though the book is quite dark, it’s not super graphic. So if you’re squeamish, you’ll be fine! (Mostly.) Of course there is impaling and stabbing and assassination attempts and Lada kindly (not) tortures the kids she grows up with all through her childhood…oh and there’s plenty of WAR and BATTLES.

ALL IN ALL: I have such fond feelings for this book! It was intense and exciting and intriguing. The writing was engaging, although a little dry at times, and the characters were winning despite being entirely horrible to each other. I am desperate for the next instillment!

 

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