Author: Kiersten White
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Year of Publication: 2016
Main Character: Lada—(3/5) She started out as an impressive (somewhat terrifying) heroine. Unfortunately, she got a little lost and I stopped agreeing with her choices. Radu—(4/5) Surprisingly, half of the book is written from his perspective. I sure didn’t mind, as he was more realistic and relatable than his sister, and his choices were wiser.
Secondary Characters: The secondary characters were highly distinct and multi-faceted, as would be expected from a book this complex. And then Mehmed….I’m kind of ambivalent about him. As a young boy, I thought he was sad and lonely, so when he and the siblings developed a charming bond, I was all for it. As they all aged and both siblings became obsessed with Mehmed to the point of abandoning their own goals to stay at his side, I found myself resenting him. Lada and Radu have too much potential to squander their lives fighting each other for a place in Mehmed’s bed (which is apparently somewhere every woman has been. EW!).
Pacing: This book was long and complex. All the same, everything White included served a purpose, which was what kept me engaged.
Accuracy of Publisher’s Synopsis: Misleading, but not inaccurate. Most synopses only focus on the first third or so of the book, but this one skipped the entire setup of the plot. I spent two hundred frustrating pages reading about Lada and Radu as children and wondering when I would hit the main action.
Resolution: I suppose it’s a good starting point for the next installment, but I have to say I was a little disappointed in Lada. She wasted years that could have been spent achieving her own goals instead developing her relationship with Mehmed and sacrificing for him. Then when she finally gets the opportunity to reap the benefits of her new life, to be powerful and rule beside a man who would do anything for her…she does the dumbest thing she ever could and throws that away, too. So now she’s no longer safe or secure and she has abandoned her family. Just when she starts to see the value in moving forward with the new life she chose, she decides to go back to the old one that doesn’t want her.
The Good: Although this book was long, every event had meaning to it. There was no point when I simply wanted to throw the book across the room screaming about senseless chapters filled with unnecessary narration. Every character was important, each act had a consequence, and everything came full circle. I can’t say much bad about this book because the aspects I disliked had more to do with the premise than the plot or the characters. The villains in the book were properly nefarious without being unrealistic; they were just selfish people who had too much power. As for the main characters, I so loved Radu and found both his struggle for purpose and his war against his nature to be heartbreaking and endearing. Lada was fierce, but we got to see the doubt and fear underneath it all. The siblings even managed to maintain their strong family bond in spite of their differences, and they sacrificed so much for each other. For people so young, they were tough and determined in a way most adults never are.
The Not So Good: I understand that the author wanted to retell history. However, when you can take liberties with the social and political realities that defined that time period, it becomes less authentic. Given that, a couple of aspects of Radu’s narrative bothered me because they simply seemed implausible. Firstly, given religious tensions at the time, I find it hard to believe that Radu would so easily be swayed to the faith of a country he grew up watching his family fighting against. I’m glad that Radu found it easy to settle into a different culture and that it gave him the sense of purpose he was missing, but I don’t see how it could have ever happened so quickly and willingly. I also question the prevalence of discussing homosexuality during the time. I doubt that Radu would have come across so many who shared in the same struggle as him and that they would actually admit it. But, I am willing to overlook those couple of confusing points, because there is one thing about this book that made me feel ill. Why on earth was a thirteen-year-old boy hanging around in a harem having sex? There is no explanation that will lessen the disgust I felt when reading about Mehmed and his many women. And the fact that he had two children with his concubines even though he had someone he actually loved within reach repulsed me. I felt terrible for Lada. It cost her so much to admit her love, even indirectly, and he was impregnating other women all the while. I hope things change, because I can’t root for a strong female character to end up with a misogynist.
Overall Impression: This book was complex and has the foundation for a popular series—the kind that gets adapted for a movie or TV show (which I would totally watch). The characters were well defined and resilient, while the plot was rife with shock and controversy. The amount of sacrifices made is not to be believed. I appreciate the historical aspects of the setting, but would like the characters and plot to stay truer to the time. There is so much potential for this series, if it’s played out strategically.
Would I recommend it? Tough question. I wouldn’t say that this book met my expectations. Most books that are this highly publicized are more compelling than this one. However, I do see potential for this series to grow, so I would have to say it depends on where White takes the story.
What I would like to see in the next installment:
1. I would like to avoid a love triangle between Lada, Mehmed, and basically any other character.
2. I really hope Radu either gets the attention he deserves from Mehmed or finds it elsewhere, preferably in someone trustworthy.
3. Lada better get a chance to prove herself on the battlefield. I didn’t spend so many pages reading about her arguing with every man for the right to fight just for her to never see a war.
4. Halil Pasha has to go. I don’t really care how or when, but I am so over him.
5. Radu and Lada need to find identities for themselves that are not derived directly from their relationships with Mehmed.
6. I don’t really want Mehmed to target Constantinople, but I also really would like to stop hearing about it. He either needs to let it go or get it done before the end of the next book.