This is the second book in the Conqueror’s saga (I wrote a review for the first book, ‘And I Darken’, which you can find here). This review might include some spoilers for the first book.
In ‘And I Darken’, the siblings Lada and Radu Dracul are brought to the Ottoman court as hostages by their father, meeting Mehmed, the heir to the Ottoman throne. Quickly, their friendship grows, and over the course of the book fierce, vicious Lada and soft-spoken, intelligent Radu help Mehmed to secure his position. But her home, Wallachia, is always on Ladas mind, and when her father dies even her feelings for Mehmed can’t stop her from returning to her castle to reclaim her throne. Meanwhile, Radu stays at Mehmed’s side, tortured by his feelings for his friend that he thinks are wrong, and that he knows will never be returned.
In ‘Now I Rise’, the first book’s main characters are split up: Lada leads her loyal men to Wallachia, trying to secure alliances and fighting obstacles and throwbacks to finally claim her throne. Mehmed sends Radu to Constantinople as a spy, while he prepares the ultimate attack on the city. Accompanied by his wife, Nazira, and the Constantinian ambassador, Cyprian, Radu follows the order, but soon starts to second guess Mehmed’s reasons for sending him away.
I absolutely adored ‘And I Darken’, and ‘Now I Rise’ managed to surpass it. The setting and language remain incredibly stunning, and I loved that you got to see a bit more of the world in this book (especially Constantinople, Transylvania and Wallachia). The plot is gripping, not allowing me to set down the book, meaning I basically finished it in about a day. Even though Radu’s and Lada’s plots in this book are very different, they work together effortlessly. I loved how both siblings are constantly on each other’s mind, both negatively and positively. Their relationship is rocky and imperfect, but even through their rivalry they love each other so very much.
Lada is incredible. In a world that doesn’t value women very highly, she has to fight every step of her way, proving over and over that she is capable and fierce. And she does! It was so satisfying to see the people around her going from ignoring her to respecting her. She doesn’t take shit from anyone, and doesn’t allow her enemies to look down on her. At the same time, she is aware of her flaws and actively tries to overcome them. She relies on her men to help her, accepting council and at the same time never swaying from her path. I loved how, in this book, Lada starts to see her womanhood as something she can use against her enemies; something that is not inherently bad but can be a weapon, if wielded correctly.
Radu’s plot is just breaking my heart over and over again. Just let him have some happiness, please!! His fierce love for Mehmed never wavers, and neither is the wish to prove himself to him, but over the course of the book Radu realizes that Mehmed is not the idealized person that he imagines him to be. He is starting to realize that becoming Sultan has changed his friend, and that their relationship will never be what it was. At the same time, he is haunted by the fact that Mehmed chose Lada, and that she abandoned him. He is questioning his choices and feelings, especially when he meets Cyprian, who might see more than friendship in their relationship. Thrown into the fight for the city, he begins to doubt which side is right, as he begins to see what Mehmed and the Ottomans are capable of.
This book’s side characters are incredible. Nazira, Radu’s ‘cover-wive’, who is actually in love with her maid, Fatima, turned into one of my favourite characters within the first couple of pages. She is witty and intelligent, and cares so deeply about Radu that she leaves Fatima behind to accompany him to Constantinople. There, she proves her worth by finding out secrets through gossip, and she remains a constant in Radu’s life that holds him up and always supports him. Cyprian is an incredible character, and the development of his and Radu’s relationship over the course of this book was so great to read.
Another thing I love are Lada’s men. They follow her without question, believe in her and support her in all she does. I love their constant banter so much, the way they accept Lada as one of their own and trust her decisions, even when they mean betraying their allies.
As in ‘And I Darken’, I have got to say how well-researched this book is. Every single name and place fits, and nothing ever feels out of place. Kiersten White manages to paint her scenes so incredibly realistically, that you have no doubt that this could have literally happened. She talks about difficult topics like different religions and gods without judgement or valuation, and excels at looking at problems and conflicts from all possible angles. Nothing in this book is ever black and white – most of the characters act in ways that are morally wrong at some point, until no one can tell who is the hero and the villain in this book.
All in all, this book is a fantastic sequel to ‘And I Darken’, with incredible characters and a great plot. The ending especially was so amazing, and I can’t wait to read the final book in this series!!