Thursday, March 14, 2013

Vlad: The Last Confession by C.C. Humphreys

For centuries, the ruler Vlad Dracula has been mired in horrific legends and vampiric folklore inspired by Bram Stoker's wildest imaginings. Author C. C. Humphreys strips away some of the superstitions and reveals aspects of the real man who fought against the Ottoman Turks in Vlad: The Last Confession. In the years after his death, those who knew him best gather to offer their unique perspectives on Vlad's troubled life. The reader meets Vlad's best friend and Ion Tremblac, his lover Ilona Ferenc and a man who once served as Vlad's confessor. Viewed through their eyes, Vlad's turbulent past comes to life, beginning with captivity among his lifelong enemies, the Turks.

Ion and Vlad endure a fragile existence among the Turks during their formative years, along with Vlad's younger brother Radu. Although Vlad remains beholden to the Turks for his education and his very life, he never loses sight of the differences between himself and his captors. He takes what he can from them, including the lessons offered by the charming Hamza, who shares Vlad's love of falconry.  When a chance meeting with the concubine Ilona, Vlad's countrywoman, gives him the chance to thwart the vain Prince Mehmet, Vlad soon regrets his actions. There are harsh teachings about the cost of betraying the Turks awaiting Vlad in Tokat, where he learns a fundamental principle that influences future dealings with his enemies. Vlad emerges from the ordeal only to find himself bereft of a father and brothers, even his beloved Radu. Destiny takes him home where he attempts to forge a principality strong enough to survive the Turkish onslaught. There are enemies intent on destroying him and Vlad's brutal methods embolden them against him. Even the beguiling Ilona does not offer the comfort Vlad seeks. Friendships, love affairs and alliances are only a temporary respite from the true cause that calls to him: the destruction of the Turks.

Humphreys portrays a ruler who is principled but brutal, wise in the ways of the Turks but bold and rash in his determined fights against them. Vlad is a man of many contradictions, as ruthless as his enemies' imaginings. He is hero and tyrant, savior and destroyer, a devoted but sadistic lover. He inspires sympathy for his cruel suffering among the Turks, his losses among family and friends. Yet, it is impossible to ignore the consequences of his savagery and the impact upon those who love and know him best. In the end, Humphreys leaves it up to the reader to form an opinion of Vlad. Whatever anyone may think of him, he's a vivid character who leaves a lasting impression.              

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