NOW I RISE, by Kiersten White, Delacorte Press, June 27, 2017, Hardcover, $18.99 (young adult)
It was this time last year that I fell in love with a new series by Kiersten White. And I Darken about Lada Dracul and her brother, Radu, took my breath away. Its followup, Now I Rise, is just as engrossing, if not more so.
In And I Darken readers are introduced to the Dracul siblings who have been abandoned in the Ottoman courts as a way to secure their father, Vlad’s, position as leader of Wallachia. Lada and Radu become pawns in an international game of intrigue, with the threat of death always hovering over their heads.
Lada and Radu move up in the ranks, befriending the sultan’s son Mehmed. Mehmed loves the siblings — Radu as a brother and Lada as something more — and wishes nothing more than they remain by his side forever. But Lada has always seen her time with the Ottomans as temporary. Her heart lies in Wallachia, and all she can think of is regaining the throne. Radu, on the other hand, can’t imagine life away from Mehmed, and the siblings part ways.
Now I Rise picks up where And I Darken left off. Lada has returned to Europe to claim her title, but she has no allies. She has no throne. Failure is not something Lada is willing to accept so she does what she does best — punish anyone who gets in her way. News of her spreads as she leaves a bloody path across the countryside, and it becomes clear that what Lada really needs is Radu’s diplomacy. But Radu made his choice. He chose Mehmed.
Choosing Mehmed has its consequences, though. Mehmed has his eye on Constantinople, and he thinks that Radu might be the one to help him get it. Radu is sent to the city as a spy. Trapped in a city under siege, Radu finds himself wishing for Lada’s strength and questioning everything he thought he knew. Lada, too, finds herself wondering how much she’s willing to sacrifice and for whom. And at the center of everything is Mehmed, pulling the strings and bending things to his will.
As with And I Darken, Now I Rise, tells Radu and Lada’s stories in alternating chapters. Though the siblings appear to be complete opposites, as the book develops, similarities arise. Lada continues to be cold and calculating, but there is also a softness that rears its ugly head every once and a while. Radu remains soft and sensitive, though there’s also a sharpness that develops during his time in Constantinople.
Again, neither character is one you’d want to cheer for, at least at first glance. Lada is still unlikeable, and yet, even if you don’t agree with her methods, you want her to succeed. Radu, who felt very milquetoast in the first book, is much more interesting.
The reason these infinitely flawed characters work is because of Kiersten’s writing. Her pacing is spot on and her prose is sharp. From the moment I picked up Now I Rise until the moment I finished, I was completely engaged.
I’ve been a fan of Kiersten’s since first reading her Paranormalcy series. She’s written a number of standalone novels as well. But it’s with the Dracul series that she sets herself apart. Here she has proved herself a chameleon, able to truly craft characters so compelling, you have to know their stories.
Sensitivity note: Both of the books in the Dracul series are quite dark. Elements of violence and sexual elements and innuendo are tastefully laced throughout. I recommend these books for older/mature YA readers, 9th grade and up.
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