Now I Rise: And I Darken, Book 2

Book review by
Carrie R. Wheadon, Common Sense Media
Now I Rise: And I Darken, Book 2 Book Poster Image
Bloodier, sexier, and more absorbing than the first.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Intriguing twist on historical fiction imagines the life of Vlad the Impaler (the inspiration for Dracula) if he were Lada, a woman. Readers witness a version of life during the 15th century in the Ottoman court, and in Constantinople, Hungary, and Wallachia. An author's note states, "I try to incorporate as much history as respectfully as I can, and encourage anyone intrigued to further study this time period and region." Many details are included on what a siege would look like in Constantinople, the tactics employed in battle both to breach the walls and defend them, and after, the ugliness of what happens when a city is ransacked. And with Lada in an unusual position for a woman at that time, there's much time to ponder what life was like for every other woman at that time and how limited their choices were.

Positive Messages

An ongoing debate about when to fight, when to surrender, and when to show mercy. Weighed heavily in the debate: people's ideas of the righteousness of their religion over others (15th-century Christianity vs. Islam), and whether showing mercy creates enemies later. The book takes the path with the most bloodshed and least mercy most of the time, with very obvious negative consequences. Encouraging words said to a character struggling with being gay: "Don't hate yourself for any love that is within you."

Positive Role Models & Representations

As in Book 1, Lada remains cruel and ruthless, protecting those loyal to her and killing anyone in her way. She constantly defies expectations of a woman in the 15th century and needs to be extremely tough to get by. But her desire for power and independence gets in the way of maintaining her most important relationships. Lada's brother, Radu, chooses unrequited love over family and suffers for it. He also finds himself in a state of constant personal crisis, working as a spy and watching a city crumble. Though he doesn't think that highly of himself, he does put loved ones first over his own safety and happiness and is so sobered by the experience of war that he looks for small ways to save the innocent.

Violence

Very high body count from various angles: dozens of assassinations with swords and crossbows; thousands of soldiers killed in the long siege of a city (arrows, cannon fire, swords, falling rocks, Greek fire); as city is ransacked, innocents too old or infirm to be sold as slaves are killed, and women are taken to be raped before being sold. Gore includes corpses defiled -- on stakes, hung over walls, ears torn off, plus details about a torso falling on a soldier after cannon fire ripped him apart, and legs cut off at the knees. A man is dragged behind horses for his crime. The discovery of a body that had been buried alive (dirt visible in wide-open mouth). Report of a whole village of women -- many of them pregnant -- raped by local landowner. Mention that the landowner's assistant had been offered "seconds." Signs that a woman had been repeatedly beaten: cracked teeth, a limp, and mental instability.

Sex

Sex three or four times, with mild details about oral sex first and a man gaining new skills in this area. Talk of harems, especially a male harem -- propaganda used against the Ottomans. Kissing between two women and thoughts about two men kissing. Some nonsexual nudity.

Language

Mostly "damnable" with a few "hell" and "ass." One use of "s--t."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Heavy drinking of wine, especially among soldiers.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Now I Rise is the second book in the And I Darken series by Kiersten White, author of the popular Paranormalcy trilogy. Set in the Ottoman Empire (15th century) and offering many details about the period, this story is based on the life of Vlad the Impaler (the inspiration for Dracula), had Vlad been a female named Lada instead. Now I Rise is even more mature than the first book, with a really high body count and more sexual content. It's best for high school readers on up (and not a bad read for parents, either). Violence includes dozens of assassinations, and thousands of soldiers killed in the long siege of a city. During the city's ransacking, innocents too old or infirm to be sold as slaves are killed, and women are taken to be raped before being sold. Gore includes corpses defiled. There's a report that the women of an entire village -- many of them pregnant -- were raped by the local landowner, with a mention that the landowner's assistant had been offered "seconds." Characters have consensual sex a few times with mild details about oral sex and a man gaining new skills in this area. Soldiers are heavy drinkers of wine on more than one occasion. Throughout Now I Rise there's an ongoing debate about when to fight, when to surrender, and when to show mercy. Weighed heavily in the debate are people's ideas of the righteousness of their religion over others, and whether showing mercy creates enemies later. The book takes the path with the most bloodshed and least mercy most of the time, with very obvious negative consequences.

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What's the story?

In NOW I RISE, Lada has left with her band of soldiers to find her destiny: the throne of Wallachia. Her quest proves much more difficult without her more charming brother, Radu, at her side. Instead of finding allies in Transylvania, an assassin from the governor of Brasov is sent to kill her. To show she means business, she heads to Brasov to return the favor, leaving destruction in her wake. That attracts the attention of a most unlikely ally: Hunyadi, her father's murderer. Meanwhile, Radu begins to regret his choice to stay with Mehmed, the sultan. He stayed to be close to Mehmed, to win his affections, but he almost never sees him anymore. Mehmed insists that Radu pretend that he's no longer in his favor and keeps him at a distance. That way Radu doesn't attract attention as he works on secret projects in preparation for an attack on Constantinople. Taking the city is Mehmed's ultimate goal. After Radu helps Mehmed amass an armada, he hopes to be back at his side. But Mehmed has other plans for Radu that take him much farther away. He's headed all the way to Constantinople, in fact, as a spy. And when the siege begins, there is no more dangerous place he could be.

Is it any good?

Readers of the And I Darken series will be giddy with the news that this sequel is even better, even more stab-all-enemies vengeful, even more lovesick-and-scorned than the first. Both troubled siblings Lada and Radu get about equal time here, alternating chapters, and both stories are absorbing. The contrast between how Lada and Radu handle themselves in the face of political turmoil and violence holds both threads together in a curious way. Lada misses Radu's charm and reasoning skills, Radu misses Lada's bravery. They both form alliances to compensate in Now I Rise, but readers know they will both succumb to their weaknesses without each other.

Author Kiersten White has many strengths as a writer. If you love character-driven stories, the reflections of Radu and Lada are very deep here. As readers, we know their flaws and their self-doubt intimately. If you enjoy action, the siege on Constantinople has the level of tactical detail and suspense you'll find in the Battle of Helm's Deep from Tolkien's The Two Towers. The only small criticism: Sometimes in this 15th-century world, it's harder to visualize places like Constantinople without extra help. More wide-shot place detail in the writing would be welcome.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the violence in Now I Rise. Is it over-the-top or suitable to the story and period setting? How is the siege of Constantinople different from or similar to epic battles in other books you've read? 

  • How is Lada different from other women in her time?  

  • Will you read more in this series? What do you think will happen to Lada and Radu next? How do you think Lada's life will resemble that of the infamous Dracula?

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