By Kiersten White
FULL SUMMARY WITH PLOT SPOILERS
Twelve-year-old Ladislav (aka Lada) and her 11-year-old brother Radu are taken from their home in Wallachia and moved to Edirne, having been given over to Murad, Sultan of the Ottomon Empire, as collateral for their father Vlad's loyalty to the Empire. Lada is unattractive, fierce, independent, and violent — Radu is beautiful, kind, lonely, and submissive. The two endure cruelty, and the constant possibility of death hangs over their heads. Although the two receive extensive education from a tutor, Lada leaves Radu a victim to beatings from the tutor, so that she doesn’t betray how much Radu means to her. Lada's greatest fear is anyone having power over her. Lada will spend the whole rest of the book OBSESSED with getting back to Wallachia.
After Lada gets her first menstrual period at 13, Halil Pasha, the Sultan’s most powerful adviser, attempts to marry her off. Lada threatens her husband-to-be, putting herself and Radu in danger of Halil Pasha's wrath. But before they can be punished, Mehmed, the sultan’s 12-year-old youngest son, is thrilled by Lada's temper and demands they be given over to him as companions instead. The three of them leave for Amasya where they become friends, though Lada remains just as fierce and independent as ever, holding her feelings for her brother and Mehmed at a distance. Though derided for being a girl, she manages to train to fight with the Sultan's armed forces, the Janissaries, men given over as slaves to defend the Ottomon Empire.
While still in their pre-teens, Mehmed’s two older brothers die (their deaths having been secretly arranged by his mother, Huma, one of the sultan’s concubines). Murad makes the decision to retire and make Mehmed, at only 12-years-old, the new sultan. They return to Edirne for Mehmed to rule, but find that the Janissaries are not loyal to Mehmed, whom they call "the little zealot," due to his belief that he is destined to be the Islamic leader prophesied to conquer Constantinople, something the Janissaries view as a veritable death sentence, as no Ottomon leader has been successful in the many attempts to conquer the city. This leaves Mehmed vulnerable to an assassination attempt arranged by Halil Pasha to remain in political power. To protect him, Lada and Radu betray Mehmed by conspiring with Huma to arrange a full rJanissary evolt in order to force Murad to return as sultan. With Murad back as Sultan, Mehmed, Lada, and Radu are able to return to Amasya.
Time passes. Mehmed, now 14, returns from a six month campaign against Hunyadi, an enemy of the Sultan's. Things between the three change. Mehmed and Lada are attracted to one another and fall in love. At the same time, Radu, spurred on by the warning of a Janissary guard named Lazar who , realizes he also loves Mehmed. While Radu's love is forbidden, Lada's becomes difficult as well. One day, Lada and Radu spy Mehmed entering a harem they didn't know existed, greeting an infant son. Within a short period of time, Murad arranges for Mehmed's marriage to a girl named Sitti Hatun, to get him out of the way, now planning to make his own new infant son by another concubine, Halima, his successor.
During one of the many marriage celebrations, Mehmed and Lada sneak off to mack on each other. While they kiss, Lada sees an assassin in the dark and lunges out, eventually winning by not only stabbing him repeatedly, but tearing him apart with her hands and teeth. It's gross. She's brought to Murad, accused of murdering an innocent man. Before she can be punished, Radu steps forward and charms the pants off of Murad, thanking him for his "kind" patronage over the years and saving them from their infidel father. Murad buys it and they're all safe again. Radu stays in Edirne to find ways to protect Mehmed politically, while Lada and Mehmed return to Amasya.
In Amasya, Lada and Mehmed fall into a weird relationship stalemate. Making out, but not having sex, while Mehmed still regularly visits his harem. He gives Lada her own Janissary guard to command. She chooses her closest Janissary friend, Nicolae, to act as her second in command. Then, a war begins with another of the Sultan's enemies, Skanderberg, a former Janissary favorite named Iskander Bey. Mehmed leaves to the battle, not allowing Lada and her guards to accompany him. This obviously pisses Lada off. Radu joins the Sultan in battle, the two only seeing each other once.
After the war is lost to Skanderberg, Radu accompanies his sick friend Kumal home, Kumal having helped him convert to Islam when he was 11. On the way, he runs into Skanderberg. They don't fight. They're hella tired and just talk. Skanderberg gives Radu the nickname "Radu the Handsome." Radu gets Kumal home and talks with Kumal's sister Nazira, who he sort of promised to marry when he thought Kumal was going to die, but now Kumal is holding him to that. Things work out when Nazira makes it clear that she knows Radu is gay, which is perfect for her because she's also gay and in love with her servant, Fatima. They're both like, "Great! Awesome perfect marriage." Though Radu is also saddened by the fact that he'll never have Mehmed's love the way Nazira has Fatima's.
After the loss, Murad goes into a depression and wants to drink and party all the time, Radu always at his side. This exhausts Radu, who is also taken up full time with trying to figure out how to get rid of Halil Pasha. He pays a grateful servant boy, Amal, to tell him whenever Halil Pasha is with Murad. Then kind of out of nowhere for the reader, Amal shows up in Amasya to give Mehmed and Lada Radu's message to get their asses back to Edirne. Murad is about to die. They do. They sneak into Murad's harem and with Huma's help, arrange a meeting with Kazanci Dogan, the Sultan's head Janissary. They're like, "Hey, we're gonna pay you guys more. We good?" And Kazanci Dogan is like, "Uh, I guess."
Mehmed takes his place as Sultan and goes about securing people's loyalty. He makes Halil Pasha now Halil Vizier and he agrees to pay more to Constantinople for "housing" his cousin Orhan, a possible threat as a far removed heir to the throne. In the midst of this, suddenly Nicolae brings back Lada's childhood best friend Bogdan in. Bogdan was taken to be a Janissary when they were still in Wallachia as children, which I couldn't quite find a graceful way to put in earlier. Radu marries Nazira. When he gets back, Mehmed is clearly jealous Bogdan AND he's jealous of Nazira, which is obviously unfair to Radu. Mehmed is like, "Hey, Radu. What do you think of this Bogdan guy?" And Radu's like, "That fucker used to beat the shit out of me. Fuck him." And Mehmed's like, "Yeah, I didn't like him either." He's also like, "By the way, your father died. Do you want to be Prince of Wallachia?" And Radu's like, "No, fuck that place. My home is with you." And Mehmed is like, "Oh, by the way, your asshole half brother Mircea died too." And Radu is like, "You are making my day. I hated him even more." And then they're like, "Let's not tell Lada that they died for ... reasons."
Even having done all this, there's another assassination attempt on Mehmed's life. Ilyas, thought to be a loyal Janissary, attacks Lada and Mehmed when they're alone. Lazar holds Radu back, trying to keep him safe. Radu kills Lazar and breaks into Mehmed's room, saving Lada and Mehmed by killing Ilyas. Kazanci Dogan didn't tell fucking anyone about the Janissary pay raise, because he fucking sucks. He's executed. Mehmed sets about trying to make things right when suddenly Halima shows up. And they're like, "Uh, what are you doing here?" And she's like, "Uh, you sent for me." And they're like, "Uh, okay." And she's like, "By the way, your infant brother, Ahmed, is doing great." And Mehmed is like, "Oh, good. That makes me genuinely happy. Now please live with him very far away because he's a threat to my being Sultan." And she's like, "Great. Just happy to have a kid." She leaves and Huma shows up, very yellow and sickly, and is like, "So I arranged for Ahmed to be drowned while Halima was here. Now he's not a threat. You're welcome." Mehmed is furious. He sends Huma away to be put in a tiny room with no luxuries. Huma is like, "Oh, yeah? Well fuck you, because Lada and Radu arranged for you to be de-throned when you were 12. Now they're like, "Fuck! This doesn't look good." And Lada decides to fall on the sword for Radu and is like, "Hey, I did that whole de-throning thing, Radu had nothing to do with it. By the way, I know how to fix this dead baby thing. Just issue a degree that all sultan's are allowed to hill their brothers as threats." And everyone is like, "That is FUCKED up." And Lada is like, "So sue me." And Mehmed's like, "Hi, you're a monster, but please marry me." And she's like, "No, fuck you. You never told me my father was dead. And if you're not gonna make Radu the Prince of Wallachia, then make ME Prince of Wallachia. I've been obsessed with getting back there since always." So Mehmed is like, "Ugh, fine!" And he does. She leaves and Mehmed falls crying on Radu and is like, "Never leave me!!!" Which is unfair, because it's pretty clear that Mehmed is aware that Radu loves him, but he's selfish and wants his love. So then Lada is back in Wallachia with her Janissary friends Nicolae and Bogdan and she's like, "By the way. I'm no longer Ladislav Dragwlya, I'm Lada Dracul. I am the dragon, motherfuckers."
End of book.