WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS.
“No one will be more brutal than me. No one will be more ruthless. And I will never stop fighting.”
I can’t help but feel like a failure for it, but I simply couldn’t maintain interest in the second volume of The Conqueror’s Saga. Despite being set amidst the backdrop of the Ottoman Empire taking Constantinople (a historical period that not enough modern fiction explores), despite the near-constant action and war scenes, I just… couldn’t get invested in the stakes.
I purchased Now I Rise as soon as it came out – that was how excited I was to pick up the sequel to the thrilling And I Darken. The book follows Lada Dracul as she journeys to her homeland of Wallachia to reclaim the throne. Meanwhile, Radu, Lada’s brother, flees to Constantinople on Mehmed’s orders, intent on bringing down the city from within.
With a premise like this, it baffles me that I couldn’t get hooked by Now I Rise. The story picks up with the same characters that made And I Darken such a gem: the ruthless Lada, the sympathetic, silvertongued Radu, and the charming and implacable Mehmed. Maybe their dynamic was a part of what made the first book so good, because the second book promptly splits up the trio and limps along on two distinct plots.
After some head-scratching, I’ve pinpointed the main issue with this book: it lacks a powerful “moment of despair” in each storyline. Lada has a single goal: to reclaim the throne of Wallachia. She travels to Wallachia, kills the incumbent prince, and installs herself on the throne. The death of one of her soldiers scarcely merits a blink, much less a low point in a plot arc. Radu faces much the same issue. He plans to go to Constantinople, endear himself to its rulers, and assist Mehmed’s siege as an inside agent. And – while he has more of a moral struggle than Lada – he does just that. His resolve to Mehmed wavers, but it is never seriously in question. Readers have no reason to care about Lada and Radu’s respective quests because, ultimately, there is no possibility that they might fail. The result is a weak, dull plot that tries to coax readers along with Lada’s badassery and Radu’s love for Mehmed and Cyprian.
One of my favorite aspects of reading is prose – even without a great plot, a book might lure readers in with gripping action scenes, intense emotions, or evocative settings. Maybe my bad first impression of Now I Rise had already spoiled me against the rest of the book, but I found the prose flat and uninteresting. Lada’s storyline read like an instruction manual (1. Get to Wallachia. 2. Bone Mehmed at some point during the trip. 3. Kill Prince of Wallachia. 4. Install yourself as Prince. 5. Kill everyone else.). Even Radu’s perspective – featuring days-long battles at the walls of Constantinople – grew tedious.
I don’t know. Maybe I waited too long to read and let my attention wander. Maybe I’m too devoted to traditional plotting in books. Whatever the cause, I couldn’t muster a scrap of interest for Now I Rise.