YA Fantasy (Alternative History, Apparently.)
I saw this book among the “because you read such and such,” on Goodreads. I assumed it fantasy because the book it compared it to was fantasy, so I expected fantasy, you know – magic, dragons, vampires – in the spirit of Dracula. I expected more of an alternative history with Dracula and vampires – shame on me for assuming.
This book was none of those things. There were no dragons. No magic. No wizards. No vampires.
It is an alternative history – not a straight-up fantasy.
Lada, a fierce girl, and her lovable brother Radu are given as collateral to the Ottoman Empire, where the befriend the third son of the sultan, Mehmed. The court is vicious, and Lada and Radu must learn to survive within it. (And then there’s a war going on, Mehmed is trying to become sultan and his friends are helping, Lada and Radu both fall in love with him – Radu’s confused about his sexuality, Lada’s worried about not having anything because she’s a woman.)
I liked the character of Lada – badass girl in a time when women were overlooked and pushed aside? Yes, please.
This book was a bit heavy on the passive narration – there was SO MUCH narration between the scenes. Someone asked me what it was about and I just stared at them – I couldn’t pinpoint a single thing about this book. The story is buried underneath narration and exposition and glossed-over action scenes. There is so much happening – there’s not really a single overall plot – you know, the point that drives the characters forward. Lada and Radu are just kind of hanging around Mehmed for what felt like a really long time, while nothing really happened.
I liked the story, I liked watching Lada grow up to be fierce in a man’s world where she has no power aside from her friendship/more-than-friendship with Mehmed, while learning that she had her own form of power. But at the same time, this book could have been half as long without all the added verbiage. A good editor would have slashed this book by at least a third. (I would have, but I’m a minimalist.)
“Radu shrugged, head tilted to one side as though he were trapping something between his ear and shoulder.”
I am SO glad White explained what tilting the head looked like – I would have been utterly confused otherwise. Seriously – sentences like that one (1/2 useful, 1/2 unnecessary) are what make this book so long. And, I get what “tilting” of the head means, yet when she added the “trapping something between his ear and shoulder” it sounded more like he was thrusting his ear against his shoulder – which is a ridiculous motion.
And again, further into the book, Lada comments on a friend’s face, saying he had a “gash.” I assume “gash” to mean a wound, fresh, bleeding. Yet, two lines down, she calls it a “scar.” Oh. I didn’t realize the wound had healed between one line of dialog and the next. Silly me.
And other little word-usage thing like that annoyed me. It peeved the English-nerd in my bones.
Oh, and there was also this – “…his face was a cloudless sky.” WTF does that even mean?
I skimmed through the reviews on Goodreads to see how my opinion compares, and I saw a few that were REALLY upset that this books doesn’t follow history, and how it was offensive, and whatnot – I don’t know anything about the history that’s been altered in this Alternative History story, so I can’t comment. I treated this book as a fantasy; it was easier to read that way. I do feel, however, that it sometimes held too tightly onto the altered history part and often read more like a history text. (In that White would drop some name and I felt like I was expected to know this historical figure, and I didn’t.)
This book would have been better if it had been set in a fantasy world rather than our own; I think White relied too much on the Ottoman empire and the folklore/history around Dracula. I would have been better had it been half as long – Radu and Lada fought for MC status from time to time, and Radu’s constant romance angst got old.
Overall, it was okay. Nothing amazing, nothing worth rushing to the bookstore for the next in the series. It was horrible, but it wasn’t great. Long, a bit tedious in some places, and a winding story. Solid middle ground. Story was good, pacing was iffy, narration was heavy, characters were good – a 4 out of 5.