Now I Rise by Kiersten WhiteNow I Rise by Kiersten White
Published by Delacorte Press on June 27th, 2017
Genres: Young Adult, Historical Fiction, Retelling
Pages: 471

She has no allies. No throne. All she has is what she’s always had: herself.

After failing to secure the Wallachian throne, Lada Dracul 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.

5 Stars

“Do not lose that hunger. You will always have to fight for everything. Even when you already have it, you will have to keep fighting to maintain it. You will have to be more ruthless, more brutal, more everything. Any weakness will undo everything you have accomplished. They will see any crack as evidence that they were right that a woman cannot do what you do.”

If you’re looking for a Young Adult novel that combines a Vlad the Impaler reimagining with a rich historical setting and a glorious feminist storyline, then The Conqueror’s Saga is your address. This series excites with multi-layered characters and fascinating character dynamics, intriguing political/war schemes and engaging personal endeavours. And I Darken was a slow build-up but I was really intrigued, especially by the sibling leads. The book’s ending gave me a hint that I was going to like where Kiersten White was headed with this story, and I was right.

Though Now I Rise is split into Lada’s and Radu’s separate storylines, it does not feel like a filler book. Compared to And I Darken, the sequel is grittier and bloodier. The stakes are raised, as each sibling yearns and fights to be something their harsh world will not permit them to be.

Let’s cut straight to the point: This series will not appeal to everyone, mainly because the pacing is slower than the average YA book’s. Kiersten White takes her sweet time with plot advancement in favour of character development. But listen, few authors create characters as beautifully flawed as Kiersten White does, and you just have to appreciate these little cinnamons buns. But I digress. For readers who despise books with story threads that barely meet – and subplots involving quests and journies, for that matter –, Now I Rise is going to be a disappointment. I, for one, thought that the separate storylines stood well enough on their own, carried by two engaging leads. Even without Lada and Radu physically interacting, their mental presence in each other’s love creates a fascinating sibling dynamic. Having reached an impasse in And I Darken, the (half) siblings go separate ways in Now I Rise, each going after their hearts’ desire – a throne and a sultan.

One of these books’ appeals is definitely its gender swap which made a feminist take on Vlad the Impaler possible. Men are handed down thrones whereas Lada has to fight for hers. What speaks to me about Lada’s storyline is that she prioritises her homeland and her birthright over romance. This is such a breath of fresh air compared to all the lovestruck heroines we get, especially in Young Adult novels. Kiersten White pitches a sultan raised with old-fashioned (aka sexist) beliefs against feminist Lada, and thus skillfully sets up two opposite mindsets to clash. Now I Rise delivers further evidence as to why this is a Vlad the Impaler reimagining. Though Lada has always been a character with more edges than a knife, her failures only sharpen her determination and ingenuity, her bitterness and brutality in the sequel. It hardly needs mentioning that witty banter is a standard element of Lada’s group of loyal followers. The only issue I experienced with Now I Rise was that some stops of Lada’s quest seemed redundant to the overall plot. In a book with a slow pacing, every step a character takes needs to be crucial to the outcome, or it will start to feel dragging.

While Lada is off slaughtering her way through Eastern Europe, Radu is sent to Constantinople as a spy for Mehmed. Historically, Now I Rise is set before and during the fall of Constantinople under the Ottoman Empire. Radu’s storyline made me realise two things: 1) With her wits and unwavering loyalty, Nazira is the second best female character on this cast, and 2) I need him to be happy with a certain handsome lad from Cyprus and drop his infatuation with Mehmed. The precious, brittle character that is Radu has a lot to stomach in this sequel. He endures the fear of being found out (on a double account!), the horrors of siege and war, and the weight of having his loyalties torn. Where character development is concerned, Radu makes more progress than Lada, in my opinion. I’m eagerly waiting to find out what crucial role Radu is going to play in this trilogy’s final instalment, and I can only pray that Kiersten White shares my ultimate goal: Radu’s happiness.

This author’s skills for crafting fleshed out characters, rich settings, and exquisite prose certainly speak for themselves. But what she truly seems to have a knack for is cliffhangers. Similar to the first book, Now I Rise ends with a well-aimed punch that’ll have you flailing. Though things have already grown tense between Lada, Radu, and Mehmed, shit is sure to hit the fan in the final instalment.

Now I Rise promises conquests, schemes, tough decisions, heartbreak, and some impaling, and it delivers on all of those. This book is definitely among my favourite reads of 2017. If you’re worried the lack of interaction betwee Lada and Radu or the ‘quest plot’ are going to impact your reading experience negatively, I can assure you that each subplot adds enough spice to the soup, and Lada’s bickering, plotting, and impaling creates enough action for any journey. 

She knew now that nothing she could do would ever be enough. Unless she could grow a penis, which did not seem likely. Nor particularly desirable.