Now I Rise

Notice: You MUST read And I Darken, the first book in Kiersten White’s Conqueror’s Saga, before proceeding with this post. You’ve been warned.

If it’s not readily apparent, I recently finished reading Now I Rise, the sequel to And I Darken. This series focuses on Lada and Radu Dracul, the children of Vlad Dracul, the inspiration for Dracula. Like I mentioned in the post on book one, this series presents an alternate history of this family. Vlad is not the brutal leader of legend here…but his daughter is.

In And I Darken, Lada and Radu were dealing with their complicated feelings for each other, their circumstances, and the new sultan, Mehmed. In Now I Rise, the complications continue. Lada has left Mehmed’s side to reclaim the throne of Wallachia. Radu, on the other hand, has stayed with Mehmed, and that presents its own set of difficulties.

Lada Dracul is determined to be Prince of Wallachia. It does not matter that she is a woman. She’s the rightful ruler, and she will take what’s hers, by force if necessary. And it looks like force–and lots of it–are necessary. In her quest to rule, she strikes down anyone who gets in her way. She forges alliances that make her sick. She betrays those close to her. All of this to get her closer to the Wallachian throne. Yet even as she is on the cusp of achieving her goal, she misses her brother, Radu, and even Mehmed.

Lada knows that Radu’s silver tongue and gift of diplomacy would get her closer to the throne. As for Mehmed, her feelings for him are a bit more complex. She misses how he makes her feel, but, at the same time, she refuses to place her future in a man’s hands. Also, she doesn’t fully trust Mehmed. He has seemingly thwarted her grab for power, and Lada knows he will do anything–including betray her–to further his own ends. She both loathes and respects that about him. After all, has she not done the same?

As for Radu, he remains completely loyal to Mehmed and the sultan’s desire to conquer Constantinople. Radu does whatever he can to further the Ottoman cause, and, when Mehmed asks Radu to become a spy within Constantinople’s walls, he reluctantly agrees. While Radu does not wish to be parted from Mehmed, he will do as Mehmed asks even as he ignores his sister’s plea for help in her endeavors. Radu knows his feelings for Mehmed will likely never be returned, but he will continue to prove his love and loyalty to Mehmed…no matter what it costs.

While in Constantinople, Radu becomes more and more conflicted. Even as he’s relaying information to the Ottomans, he’s growing closer to those fighting for Emperor Constantine. How can he betray these people who have taken him in, shown him kindness, and trusted him? But how can he turn his back on Mehmed, who he loves more than all others? He’s given up nearly everything for Mehmed, but is he willing to give up his very soul so that Mehmed can conquer a city that seems to be dying anyway?

Both Radu and Lada Dracul are wrestling with questions of loyalty, love, faith, and sacrifice. What are each of them willing to do to achieve their goals? What will they find themselves capable of? Betrayal? Murder? And what will be lost along the way?


Everything I said about And I Darken also applies to Now I Rise. I don’t feel like writing all that again, so read the end of my post on And I Darken to get my full take on both of these books. In short, though, these books raise all sorts of questions on what a person is willing to do to serve their own ends, how love makes a person both strong and weak, what it means to be feminine, and how women who do not subscribe to societal expectations are viewed. And that barely even touches on the religious and historical aspects of the book. It’s a lot to take in, and all of this stuff makes both And I Darken and Now I Rise as sumptuous as two decadent pieces of dark chocolate.

So…how does Now I Rise differ from And I Darken? Well, we get to know both Lada and Radu a bit more. These two characters get more complex with each page, and I’m sure that will continue in the next book. The biggest difference, though, is the elevated brutality. Radu is in the middle of a war zone, and he both witnesses and commits atrocities true to what is happening around him. Lada, in her quest for power, cuts down anyone in her path and leaves a trail of bodies behind her. There’s nothing pretty, delicate, or civilized about her path to the Wallachian throne. She’s vicious, brutal, and without mercy. She has to demonstrate to all that she is no pushover, and she’s not shy about shedding blood to prove her point.

In case you’re wondering, I would recommend both And I Darken and Now I Rise to a mature teen or adult audience. I doubt most middle grade readers are developmentally ready for books like these. They deal with political maneuvering, sexuality, betrayal, and the horrors of war, and I think reading and discussing these issues require a certain level of maturity. You may have a different take, but I urge you to read the books yourself before you make that determination.

Now I Rise will be released on June 27th. The third book in The Conqueror’s Saga should be out next summer. To learn more about And I Darken and Now I Rise, visit the series’ official website.

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And I Darken

Yesterday, Kiersten White’s newest book, And I Darken, was released into the world. I was lucky enough to get an early copy via NetGalley, but I didn’t manage to finish the book until last night. You know how it is–vacation, work stuff, naps–all of that got in the way.

Anyhoo, I did finish this first book in a planned trilogy last night, and I can say with absolute certainty that it’s unlike anything I’ve read in recent memory. It is a batcrap-crazy ride, and I mean that in the best way possible. And I Darken defied all of my expectations, and I cannot wait to see what awaits the characters I encountered in this book.

So…what’s it all about? While some sources have And I Darken listed as fantasy, I wouldn’t be so quick to attach that label…at least to this first book. There is no fantasy involved…unless you maybe want to call alternate history a type of fantasy (which I don’t). This story takes place during the rise of the Ottoman Empire, and it is the tale of the children of Vlad Dracul (the inspiration for Dracula, of course).

Now, in this telling, Vlad is not exactly the fearsome ruler of legend. He’s still in charge of Wallachia (part of Romania), but he’s weak and under the thumb of the Sultan. He essentially offers his children, Lada and Radu, as collateral to the Sultan.

Radu is a gentle, handsome boy who goes virtually unnoticed by others…unless they’re pointing out his apparent weakness. Forgotten by his father, Radu seeks solace in Islam and finds a measure of peace in his new circumstances.

Lada is fierce and sees being a woman as a liability. She knows that she is equal–if not superior–to any man. She is at once Radu’s protector and tormentor, and, even though she hates that her father has abandoned them to the Sultan, she remains loyal to her homeland of Wallachia.

Eventually, the siblings encounter another child who would become central to their lives. This boy is Mehmed, and he is the Sultan’s heir. Radu is immediately drawn to Mehmed, and the two quickly become friends. Radu is tormented by his feelings for Mehmed and confused about what those feelings might mean.

As for Lada, she soon becomes Mehmed’s confidante. He can drop his shields around her and simply be himself. Yes, he will be Sultan soon, but with Lada, he can simply be Mehmed. Lada resists getting involved with Mehmed. After all, attachment and emotion are signs of weakness. Her primary goal is survival…by any means necessary. As time passes, though, Lada and Mehmed grow closer, and Lada realizes he is becoming an essential part of her life. She does wonder, however, if she is equally important to him.

Set against a background of political maneuvering, betrayal, fighting, and even murder, Radu and Lada must decide what each of them are willing to lose to achieve their own ends. Will Radu be able to suppress his own desires and give up his only family to remain by Mehmed’s side? Will Lada abandon her goal of returning to (and ruling) her beloved Wallachia to form some semblance of a life with Mehmed (and his harem)?

Love and loyalty will be tested in these tumultuous relationships. What–or who–will be sacrificed in the process? Read And I Darken, the first book in The Conqueror’s Saga, to find out.


Like so many before it, this post doesn’t come close to capturing just how rich, dark, and satisfying this book is. (I almost feel like I just described a piece of dark chocolate.)

And I Darken is an intense read that makes a person think about just what they’d be willing to do to serve their own ends or even the good of those around them. Would you be willing to betray the person who means the most to you? Give up your family, faith, or future? Walk away from everything and everyone you’ve ever known? Kill? Those are just some of the things facing the characters in this book, and these situations and how they play out could lead to some very profound discussions.

Other discussions might come when talking about the characters themselves, especially Radu and Lada. In Radu’s case, there’s the issue of coming to terms with his sexuality in a time and place that didn’t even address anything other than heterosexuality. (Apparently, it’s okay to have multiple wives and concubines, but being gay is taboo. Another potential topic to explore there.) How have things changed since the time of the Ottoman Empire? Have things changed at all in certain parts of the world? Is being gay still considered being something “other” even in the so-called “modern” world? So many questions to ponder.

And then there’s Lada…

Lada is a warrior. She buries her feelings deep and displays very few outward signs of weakness. She is vicious and determined to get what she wants. She does whatever she must to survive and protect those she cares for, but she knows that her ultimate goals conflict with those of Radu and Mehmed, and she has to decide what to do about that. Lada is a complicated character, one who rarely even understands herself or her motivations, but she is absolutely fascinating to read about. Lada’s character could lead to many discussions on what it means to be feminine; how women have been viewed historically and in the present, especially as it pertains to fighting, defying expectations, and dealing with patriarchal societies; and even something like negative reactions when women put their own needs and desires first.

I’m curious to see what will happen with Lada in the next two books, and if she’ll truly become the brutal inspiration for a very different legend of Dracula. Should be interesting.

Speaking of future books, I have no idea what the title of book two will be. I’m assuming it will be released about this time next year, but that’s just a guess at this point.

If you’d like to learn much, much more about And I Darken, please visit the book’s official website. I’ve only explored it a little, but it has lots of information to offer, including character descriptions, a book trailer (which I’ve also included below), an author bio, and more.

Lastly, for those wondering if And I Darken is a good pick for the middle grade crowd, I would have to say no. While this book is extremely compelling, I think many of the themes and situations are more suited to a high school crowd. As always, though, read it for yourself to determine if it’s a good fit for your students/patrons.

Jessica Rules the Dark Side

Spoiler alert!  You MUST read Jessica’s Guide to Dating on the Dark Side by Beth Fantaskey before proceeding!  You may also want to read The Wedding of Antanasia Jessica Packwood and Lucius Valeriu Vladescu, an online novella available on the author’s website here.  This post will be all about Jessica Rules the Dark Side, which takes place shortly after the events of the novella.

After reading both the preceding book and novella, I had super-high hopes for Jessica Rules the Dark Side.  In some ways, those hopes were realized.  In others, though, this sequel just didn’t live up to the first book.  I liked how Jessica grew into her role as a leader, but I wanted to smack her in the face a few times for being monumentally stupid.  She was such a strong character in the first book that it was almost painful to see her weakness at the beginning of this one.  Yes, I understand that there’s probably a lot of pressure involved in being a Romanian vampire princess, but the first part of this book was kind of difficult to take.  Jessica was almost as whiney as Bella Swan (and that is saying something).

The honeymoon is over.  Now, it’s time for Lucius and Jessica–otherwise known as Princess Antanasia–to rule their contentious vampire clans.  But not everyone wants them to take the throne.  When one of their primary adversaries ends up dead, and all evidence points to Lucius, it is up to Jessica to make the hard decisions and step up when her dear husband is incarcerated for a crime she’s sure he didn’t commit.  Jessica doesn’t know what she’s doing, and, worse, everyone knows it.  How can she possibly find a way to clear her husband’s name and convince everyone she’s fit to be the queen…especially when she doesn’t think she’s queen material herself?

Jessica enlists the help of her best friend Mindy–who’s dealing with her own brand of failure–and Lucius’ best friend Raniero–who is hiding some pretty dark and disturbing secrets.  Jessica has complete faith in Mindy, but she’s not quite sure of Raniero’s motives…and when the truth is revealed about his past, she’s even more unsure.  Eventually, she trusts Lucius’ faith in his friend and seeks Raniero’s guidance and help in proving her husband’s innocence.  Jessica is still not entirely certain of who around her is ally or enemy, but it’s becoming crystal clear that a plot is afoot to remove Lucius–and her–from their rightful places.  But who would go to such great and horrifying lengths to destroy Lucius and Jessica?

The answer is closer than even Jessica knows, but time is running out.  Lucius’ time in prison–without the life-sustaining blood he needs–is causing him to grow ever weaker.  If Jessica cannot find out who is framing her husband soon, both of them will face certain destruction.  Who is friend?  Who is foe?  And can Jessica learn to tell the difference before she loses everything?  Will Jessica find a way to save her husband and assert her own power before it’s too late?  Or will the traitor that framed Lucius find a way to destroy Jessica too?  Uncover the mystery when you read Beth Fantaskey’s Jessica Rules the Dark Side.

It was clear to me from the very beginning who was behind the shenanigans in the Vladescu manor, but several of the characters in this book–with the possible exception of Jessica’s best (human) friend Mindy–were blind to what was obviously going on around them.  It was all so predictable.

While reading this book, I couldn’t help but draw parallels to that other vampire couple.  You know, the sparkly one.  The relationship between Lucius and Jessica is very similar to the one between Edward and Bella.  No, they didn’t have some weird, creepy mutant child, but their dynamic was basically the same.  Lucius is the powerful one who seems secure in his role as a ruler.  He’s dominant, formal, and protective.  Jessica is new to this whole thing and is very insecure and whiney.  She eventually grows into her power, but it takes a very real threat to make that happen.  By the end, she is Lucius’ equal, but the journey was not easy for her, and she had to overcome her own urge to run in order to truly rule.  Very much like Edward and Bella in Breaking Dawn, no?

I was a big fan of Jessica’s Guide to Dating on the Dark Side, but I’m afraid this sequel didn’t quite live up to my expectations.  It was okay, but a few surprises would have made it a much more exciting read.

If you’d like to learn more about author Beth Fantaskey and her books, visit http://www.bethfantaskey.com/.

Jessica’s Guide to Dating on the Dark Side

Thanks to an incovenient bout of insomnia, I’ve gotten a lot of reading done lately.  (Weirdly, nearly all of the books involve vampires.  Maybe the subject matter is keeping me from sleeping at night…or I’m turning into a vampire.  I’ll keep you posted.)  Well, my latest read is Beth Fantaskey’s Jessica’s Guide to Dating on the Dark Side.  As you may have surmised, this is yet another vampire tale.  Unlike some others that take a little while to get into, this one hooked me from the very first page.  I LOVED it!  There’s just so much angst in this book (and many, many allusions to classic pieces of literature…many of them also filled with angst).  It’s a really great read for literature nerds who like vampires.

Jessica Packwood lives on a small farm in rural Pennsylvania.  Her life has always been a bit drab, but things are about to change.  There’s a stranger in town who is about to turn her entire world upside down.  For Lucius Vladescu is not just any stranger; he’s a vampire prince and claims to be Jessica’s betrothed.  It should go without saying that Jessica’s a little resistant to this news.  Yes, she knows she was adopted in Romania and that her birth parents had some odd cultural beliefs, but she can’t possibly believe she’s a vampire princess and engaged to a guy she’s never met.  Can she?

Well, it turns out, all that stuff is true, and Jessica, or Antanasia as she’s known in vampire circles, must embrace her destiny to prevent war among vampire clans.  She’s just having a little trouble accepting all of this stuff.  It really doesn’t help that she’s strangely drawn to Lucius and beginning to crave blood.  And it seems the closer she gets to admitting the truth to herself, the farther Lucius slips from her.  You see, Lucius has been raised to believe he has no choice in his destiny, but his time with Jessica and other American teens has made him value the preciousness of choosing one’s own destiny.

Jessica has accepted her fate, but now Lucius is the one unwilling to unite their vampire families.  Why?  Does he really have no feelings for Jessica?  Or is there some larger, perhaps more sinister, plan at work?  What will become of Jessica and Lucius when the ruthless vampire elders decide to intervene?  Can these two crazy kids possibly work things out, or are they doomed to destroy each other?  Read Jessica’s Guide to Dating on the Dark Side to find out.

Like I said before, I loved this book.  It was a fast read and kept me captivated the whole way through.  The story is continued on Beth Fantaskey’s webpage, http://www.bethfantaskey.com/, and, as soon as I can stand to sit in front of a computer that long, I plan to read it.  For now, though, I’m going to move on to Beth Fantaskey’s next novel, Jekel Loves Hyde.  Happy reading!