“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.
My Thoughts: The curious thing about Now I Rise, with it being a reimagining of Vlad the Impaler’s life were Vlad a female, is how you react to the violence used in the name of justice and social change. Even though Lada is just as angry and vengeful and violent as Vlad was, you understand her reasons for her anger and for her use of violence to enact her revenge. You cheer every brutal step she takes on her path towards obtaining her throne. You empathize with her misery at not being a man and giggle at her discomfort on those rare occasions she must wear a dress. She is like so many of us who grew up female in a male’s world and find ourselves spending all of our energy proving that we are every bit as capable to lead, if not more so. Lada makes impaling seem perfectly normal because she is only doing what she learned about effective leadership from the Ottomans. And yet, she is nothing more than the female representative of what some people call one of the most brutal leaders in European history. One could have a field day dissecting the difference gender makes in how one understands and accepts certain behaviors by just studying Lada versus Vlad.
Ms. White also plays around with Radu’s history, making him a much more sympathetic character than perhaps he is depicted in history. In this novel, we see Radu struggle not only with his feelings for Mehmed but also to accept his general attraction to men rather than women. All this occurs while he is trying remain loyal to Mehmed II and not get caught as a spy, even though he develops sympathies for the very people he is going to betray. His divided loyalties, between his sister and his friend, between the Turks and the Greeks, endear him to the reader as he attempts to be true to himself and to those he holds dear.
Now I Rise is a fascinating look back at the Ottoman empire during the fifteenth century and the tumultuous power struggle against its Christian neighbors. Ms. White breathes life back into the time period with her evocative descriptions, while her nuanced understanding and unique approach to this famous trio fleshes them out as more than historical characters on a page. Their way of life might be completely foreign and ancient to modern readers, but they still resonate with modern readers due to their struggles for happiness and success, things that are timeless. Ms. White’s prose draws you in to history through their wins and setbacks and makes you forget you are reading about something that happened almost 600 years ago.
In Now I Rise, the fact that the Dracul siblings are apart allows them to flourish as individuals and creates another set of divided loyalties among readers. Even readers who may not be familiar with the Vlad II/Mehmed II relationship will understand by the end of the novel that something big is coming to stress the trio’s relationships. Those who know what exactly that is can only sit anxiously and wait for Ms. White to write the third book so we can find out how she resolves this historical showdown. Will she stay true to history or will she remain as faithful to history as she has to date? I, for one, cannot wait to find out!