Really liked this one a lot, which will come as no surprise to those who knows my reading habits. Yeah, fiction is great, but the REAL stories behind those figures is SO much more interesting. Like, Game of Thrones is fine, but the Plantagenets are absolutely batshit bananas and way more fun to read about.
The title is 100% spot-on and the author does a fantastic job presenting evidence of all the faces Vlad showed to the world, and how the world perceived him - and continues to perceive him to this day. He is one of the most intriguing figures of the middle ages.
I appreciated how the author presented warfare at the time. I am not terribly interested in military history, even in medieval times, but that makes up a huge part of who Vlad Dracul was and why he was so loved by his people. The author was able to present that information in context, but did not overload the reader. There is also much about the politics of the time, and if you consider what was going on in eastern Europe and Asia at the time, those politics are incredibly important.
There is no doubt that Vlad Darcul was an absolutely brutal and cruel leader. But so were many other rulers in the middle ages. This period of history is littered with all kinds of atrocities, but for some reason Dracul is identified as being worse than all the others. And okay, yeah, being impaled on a giant wooden pole would be an agonizing and horrible way to die, but there was a plethora of torture going on all over Europe and Asia. Not to mention the world as a whole was filled with endless misery - constant violent warfare and everything associated with moving armies, boughts of plague, and in general for peasants, short lives, often puntuated by starvation, deaths of children, and so on. But the book does not gloss over how the victims died, so consider this your warning.
Vlad Dracul was a product of the time and place he existed in, and needs to be considered in that context.
Much of Vlad's life, and thus the book, revolved around warfare and the reasons for his brutal campaigns. Given the horrific murders of his father and brother at the hands of the Boyers, Vlad doesn't really have a choice but to employ the tactics he does while consolidating power and shoring up support from the people. He also has to contend with the Ottoman Turks banging on the door of medieval Transylvania and specifically Wallachia so to speak. Even though he did not in the end completely repel the Turks, he fought ruthlessly to keep his country free.
In the end the author presents us with three options for how we can view Vlad Dracul: a literal blood-thirty tyrant, a cruel but justified ruler, or a hero who fought for the freedom of his land and people. It is not wrong to believe that all three views can be correct, but you will have to decide for yourself.