At first, I enjoyed the fact that the main character was a little savage. It seemed like an interesting choice to cast Dracula as a girl– after all this could add a creepy dimension to the legend- but only for a little while… because this turns out to be a big ask when it comes to the suspension of disbelief. There was just so much cognitive dissonance in making Dracula a girl. For starters, she’d be a valueless hostage and no one would much care what happened to her. And then there’s the second issue of her overpowering tons of men and it being *totally* unrealistic- she doesn’t have superpowers, she’s much younger than them and women don’t have the same muscle density as men. There is also a reason why the whole “girl dresses up as a boy” trope exists (which of course she eventually does anyway, but not until she’s done a gazillion stupid things that would have got her teeth knocked out boy or girl). I’m sorry, but this is not something I can suspend my disbelief for in a historical setting, especially when the author constantly kept drawing my eye to the reality. It says a lot that I have an easier time buying Stoker’s blood-sucking version than this nonsense.
Frankly, this is all made a lot worse by the fact that Vladimir Dracula is not a sympathetic historical figure, no matter how much he suffered, and making him a girl doesn’t make the character any more likeable. He’s just too much “anti” and not enough “hero”. I found it nigh on impossible to root for Lada. No matter what battle was going on, I was never interested in who lived or died. It doesn’t help that she practically crawled from the cradle with a knife in her hand and the promise she will one day kill her brother. The fact that she is always a little psycho also undermines any potential growth she could have as a villain. She doesn’t end up twisted and dark because of torture- in fact there’s none of this- apparently it’s too difficult to overpower a little girl (I swear one of these asides is gonna get someone to yell “internalised misogyny” at me, to which I say ignore biology at your own peril). Plus the story tries realllly hard to convince us that she’s sly- but she’s about as cunning as an ox throughout- I have no idea why someone didn’t just lop her head off. I think I prefer to keep to the history books for this character.
I could not pin down why Mehmed was remotely interested in Lada either. In fact, I had no idea why he even befriended them, let alone loved her. I feel like this could have been expanded upon. It was also hard to buy is piety when he had a literal harem of women- who literally get compared to stools at one point and he doesn’t object- and again I wondered how am I supposed to like this character?
Which led me onto another problem: too often it felt like this book was trying to uphold the Ottoman Empire as a paradigm of virtue. Again, sorry, this doesn’t work if you’re going to show some of the gory reality and the subjugation of other sovereign nations. This was at its worst when it presented Huma as simultaneously powerless and yet tried to make bold claims that she’s somehow powerful- such as epitomised by this quote: “You see this as a prison. But you are wrong. This is my court. This is my throne. This is my kingdom. The cost was my freedom and my body.” This presents her:
- Like she has a choice about entering the harem
- Delivered like she’s in a position of strength
- And yet acknowledges the price she’s paid
There’s just too much contradiction in those sentences. Maybe it would make sense if she was presented as delusional, yet it felt more like it was saying sex slavery is liberating- sarcastic yayyy! It’s an odd attempt to sanitise the past that I can’t get my head round– either it was really bad and oppressive and we move on OR it was idealistic and we move backwards. You can’t simultaneously have this “she’s not treated nicely cos she’s a woman *and* look at her kickass and break all the social conventions- it just beggars belief.
The one thing I liked was that Radu was gay and in love with Mehmed. I did look it up and allegedly it was the other way round, but either way, I enjoyed this subplot. That’s not to say I liked Radu’s character- he came across as a bit of a pansy- but he was somewhat more interesting and was at least shown to be convincing.
Despite everything I’ve said, this wasn’t a terrible book: this had an interesting narrative and there was a strong ending. It was well written and entertaining, which always makes me reluctant to be too harsh. But I just didn’t buy what it was selling. I couldn’t latch onto any of the characters and I can’t see myself reading the next one. This was sadly not for me.
Rating: 2½/5 bananas
Have you read this? What did you think about it? Do you agree or disagree with any of my thoughts? Let me know in the comments!