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YA / Alternative
Book One of a series
This young adult novel is of a quality that it is a great read for adults as well, and one that will not disappoint. It does not feel particularly ‘young’ and is gritty enough to keep an older, more experienced reader entertained.
The novel traces the early life of Lada, a Romanian noble, daughter of Vlad Dracul (no, not that one) who is sent into the heart of the Ottoman Empire with her brother Radu as surety for the behaviour of their father. There they both meet Mehmet, son of Murad, the Ottoman Emperor and find an unlikely friend in a world where they are for the most part ignored, and are only alive as long as their father does as he is told.
Throughout the book there is a tension built from the precarious situation of the two main characters, their real fear that they could at any time be executed and that beyond keeping their father in check, they are worthless. Their status is equivocal, and their survival relies at times solely on their friendship with Mehmet. Where Lada kicks and struggles and fights her captors at every step, wishing to join the ranks of the palace guard despite being a girl, her brother Radu is quiet and perfect. But he is not stupid, and uses his apparent acquiescence to their overlords to gather intelligence and inveigle himself into the higher levels of court, something that Lada cannot understand.
Strictly speaking this novel is alternative history. Anyone who knows this era will have picked up on this by now – the character ‘Lada’ was not a girl, and when she rides back to Romania to take her father’s place, she is in fact Vlad Dracul, better known to history as Vlad the Impaler, a method of execution he learned from the Ottomans and made very much his own. For all that it is not a faithful re-telling of the history, altering the gender of the main character explains the Ottoman’s hold on Vlad, something that has confused historians.
This is a tale of two people, two very different characters – one who accepts a new reality and strives to make the most of it, and one who refuses to give in. Which is correct, well, that is for the reader to decide.
© Nicky Galliers
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