Now I Rise

Rating: ⭐
Author: Kiersten White
Genres: Young Adult, Historical Fiction, Re-imagined History
Read: July 2017
Series: The Conqueror’s Saga (Book 2)

 

I couldn’t quite decide how I felt about this series when I read And I Darken, but after reading Now I Rise I am totally on the bandwagon!

This series is quite unlike anything else I’ve ever read. I love historical fiction and I love fantasy – The Conqueror’s Saga is a perfect mix of both genres! I would call this re-imagined history, focused on Kiersten White’s re-imagining of history if Vlad the Impaler had been a woman and in love with Mehmed the Conqueror.

The series takes place in the Ottoman Empire in the mid-1400’s when Lada and her younger brother Radu, heirs of Wallachia (part of Romania), are abandoned in the Ottoman courts and strike up a friendship with a young Mehmed. I won’t go into detail on the plot of And I Darken because it was a while since I read it, but Now I Rise follows Lada’s quest to take back the throne of Wallachia and Radu’s uncover spy mission into Constantinople during Mehmed’s attempt to take the city as one of his first accomplishments as the new sultan of the Ottoman empire.

I didn’t know much about the Ottoman Empire, so I found the historical aspects of this series fascinating. History remembers Vlad the Impaler as a villain, but to many Wallachian’s, he was a hero. Lada is completely ruthless and unforgiving, but you can’t help but love her as she does whatever it takes to restore Wallachia. She recognizes that she will always have to fight for power as a woman, but also acknowledges that the hardships she’s faced and the fact that she has to fight twice as hard as a woman is what gives her so much strength.

I liked how the series explores the different ways in which women could have power in the 1400’s and that power gained through marriage or children or even prostitution is still power and no less than that which is gained by traditional feats of strength or dominance. I love the scene where Lada is alone by the river, dealing with having her period, and is set upon by 3 men. She uses her femininity to her advantage and ultimately saves the lives of many of her men by doing so.

This series is dark and there is so much tension between the characters as they fight to gain power. The plot is strong, but the characters are really what really made this story wonderful. They are all so gritty and real. They do horrible things and make terrible choices and yet you understand their motivation and drive. I love the complicated relationship between Lada and Radu and felt such sympathy for Radu as he struggled with his feelings both for Lada and Mehmed. The secondary characters were all so wonderfully realized as well. Nazira is my hero and I loved Cyprian, Nicolae, and Hunyadi. I also enjoyed the exploration of religion in this book and Radu’s relationship with Islam.

Well done Kiersten White, can’t wait to read more!!

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The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue


Rating:
 ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Mackenzi Lee
Genres: Young Adult, Historical Fiction, LGBT
Read: July 2017

 

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue was wonderful! I haven’t been reading a whole lot of young adult novels lately because the genre seemed a little tired and everything felt more or less the same, but the genre has definitely been growing and tackling a lot of issues around race and gender identity that general fiction sometimes seems hesitant to address.

Bravo to Mackenzi Lee for this book! The story is set in the 18th century and focuses on 18 year old Monty and Percy as they set off on a “grand tour” around Europe before preparing to settle down and begin their adult lives. Monty sees the trip as a last hurrah before being forced to take over his father’s estate and plans to gamble and drink his way around Europe with his best friend Percy, who he just happens to be in love with.

The trip quickly goes sideways and Monty, Percy, and Monty’s sister Felicity find themselves being chased all over Europe after an encounter with honest-to-god highway men. This book is hilarious and wildly fun, but it also tackles a lot of tough issues and does it without feeling preachy or forced. Monty is extremely privileged and totally oblivious to his privilege. He blunders around making bad decision after bad decision, but I loved watching him grow and be challenged.

Somehow this book manages to address race, disability, gender equality, sexual orientation, and class privilege. It had the added intrigue of tackling all these issues during the 18th century, where I can’t even begin to imagine what it might be like to be a gay, black, epileptic man. There was a lot going on, but the novel had a lot of depth and was quick-paced.

The characters were all fantastic, but I’m thrilled to discover that Felicity will be getting her own novel next year because she was by far my favourite character. She was so badass – my favourite line of the entire book had to be when she informs Monty and Percy that “Ladies haven’t the luxury of being squeamish about blood”. I loved how all the characters challenged the boxes that 18th century society tried to place them in and how they grew as individuals and in their relationships.

So I would absolutely recommend this as a fun read, but fortunately it’s not a frivolous one and I really think you will be better for having read it. It’s a large print book and it definitely does not feel like 500+ pages – I breezed through it!