Author: Mary Lancaster
Genre: Fiction (Historical / 15th Century / Eastern Europe / Romania / Ottoman Empire / Court Intrigue / Historical Figure Fictionalized / Romance)
Publisher/Publication Date: Self published (4/2013)
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours
Rating: Liked a good deal.
Did I finish?: I did.
One-sentence summary: The lifelong friendship and love affair between Vlad the Impaler and a Hungarian noblewoman in 15th century Transylvania.
Reading Challenges: E-book, Historical Fiction
Do I like the cover?: I do -- it's ambigu-royal but I think it conveys the more serious (non-paranormal) heft to the story.
I'm reminded of...: Jeanne Kalogridis, Matt Rees
First line: He made a perfect villain.
Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Buy -- the ebook is $2.99!
Why did I get this book?: I love hist fic in unusual settings, and having traveled through Transylvania over the winter, I'm eager to return -- in person or via book!
Review: A novel about Dracula that doesn't involve vampires?! Be still my heart!
Needless to say, when I was offered to be on the tour for this one, I leapt at the chance, and my leap was rewarded: this is a great novel of court intrigue, war, and love -- and I'm happy to say, this isn't a Tudor-esque fic simply plunked into Transylvania.
Alternating between 1474 and 1454, the novel follows Ilona Szilágyi, a Hungarian noblewoman, and her friendship, courtship and love affair with Vlad Dracula.
My historical knowledge of Vlad Dracula is fuzzy (or, really, nonexistent), and Lancaster's novel quickly and neatly delves into his violent and heartbreaking life -- hostage to the Ottomans, a pawn during war, an ambitious military leader regarded with awe and horror for his unapologetically brutal ways -- who becomes a Prince and eventual political prisoner. Vlad's ambitions are boundless as is his determination to remain a ruler, and he allows himself to be used by the Wallachians and Hungarians to remain in power. Lancaster opens with Machiavelli's quote (better a prince be feared than loved), which is coined some forty years after Vlad's reign and yet exemplifies his leadership style.
And still, knowing all that, I was kind of into Vlad. Even with a mustache and his cruel military prowess, I was digging him! It helped that our heroine, Ilona, was fun, a realistic mix of innocence and boldness, a bit fiery and a bit shy; I could relate to her, and when she was smitten, I was a tiny bit smitten.
Lancaster's writing is effortless, geeky with detail without feeling like infodumping or oversharing. She plunges us into the story, opening with the end of Vlad's imprisonment before taking us back to his youth, when he first met the impetuous Ilona. The political tangle of that region is lightly explained but really offered through context, and I appreciated that. (For those who are curious, you can read Chapter One on Lancaster's website.)
There's a long cast of characters at the beginning of the book as well as a map of the region. There's no Author's Note or Afterward, which I would have liked -- I'm intensely curious about this era and the players now!
I'm unsure how to describe this one: it's beach-y fun to read, but it isn't a bodice ripper or a sexed up historical ala Philippa Gregory. It isn't the weighty military historical necessarily but it's obviously a novel of war and conflict. It's a tiny bit coming-of-age for our young noblewoman; it's a bit middle-age-looking-back-at-youth as well. Whatever it is, it's fun, and effortless to read, and worth picking up if you like court intrigue but want a little variation, or if you're curious about Eastern Europe in the 15th century, or even if you just want to know a bit about the historical Dracula. (And, at the moment, it's $2.99 as an ebook.)
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I'm thrilled to offer an e-book copy of A Prince to be Feared to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US and international readers, ends 5/31.