After And I Darken, the paths taken by the three main characters have diverged. Lada (Vlad the Impaler) has gone back to Europe to try to claim the throne of Wallachia. Mehmed (sultan of the Ottoman Empire) plans to conquer Constantinople. Radu (Lada’s brother and Mehmed’s trusted advisor) is sent into Constantinople as a spy. This book is told in alternating chapters from Lada’s and Radu’s points of view.
I think I enjoyed this book even more than the first. More historical figures are introduced, including Constantine and a female version of Orban (an iron founder and designer of cutting-edge cannon technology) named Urbana. Lines between what is right and wrong grow even more blurred. Lada doubts herself constantly, and compensates by becoming more and more brutal. She is already starting to be recognizable as the famed Vlad the Impaler from history. Radu is living a double life and learning that war is ugly no matter which side you’re on. He doubts his faith in both people and god, and finds no comfort in the loves of his younger, more naive self. Both siblings go through major shifts in character, growing in ways that break them as they age. This is disillusionment at its worst, and it excites me that White is able to pull off these very strong personal stories while also recounting real historical events.
The only disappointing thing was the absence of Mehmed for most of the book. Honestly, I can’t remember if he had sections of the first book told through his eyes or if we just saw him constantly because the three characters were virtually inseparable at the time. Either way, I would have liked to view the situation from his point of view. He has links to Lada both in his adoration for her and in the way he is willing to sacrifice anyone – even those he loves – in order to conquer an area he believes he is destined to rule. Lada, of course, feels the exact same way about Wallachia as Mehmed does about Constantinople, and they both dismiss each other’s desires and justifications as pointless. It’s an interesting parallel that I’d like to see more from on both sides. Additionally, Mehmed is playing a role, a mask of frivolity to hide his real intents from the enemies within his court. Radu constantly despairs about his double identity and the way he’s losing his inner self over time because of this duplicity, and I would love to see if Mehmed is going through the same things. It feels like there are so many things that bind these characters together, beyond just their friendships and childhood history with each other.
I’m really looking forward to the third installment of the series, which I believe is supposed to come out sometime next year.