Sir Jens’ (‘Sir’ seems to be his first name…) In the Shadow of Empires is an amateur history book about Vlad Dracula (as opposed to a sensational book about the fictional ‘Dracula’). It shows its amateur status in some uneven editing, and problems keeping tense and subject-verb agreement under control.

Once past that, it is a well-written introduction to a part of history that just isn’t well enough known, and is crowded with all sorts of modern myths stemming from a century-old bestselling novel. It is a very nice step-by-step walkthrough of eastern European politics in the 15th century. He first points out that Vlad Dracula (‘of the dragon’) was from Wallachia, not Transylvania, proceeds into Wallachia’s troubled politics from being a buffer state, his father, Vlad Dracul (‘the dragon’), and then his ever-shifting fortunes from Ottoman ‘guest’ to Voivode (roughly ‘prince’) to prisoner of Hungary, to backed by Hungary, to his death in a skirmish in 1476.

Along the way, there’s a number of interesting observations, the last of which being that the four principle movers of the book (Vlad Dracula, Ottoman Sultan Mehmed, King Mathias of Hungary, and Stefan of Wallachia) are all men who’d be unhesitatingly convicted by a war crimes tribunal today. But all four are heroes in the eyes of the people (well, their descendants) they ruled over.

In all, it’s a very readable amateur book with some good history in it. Something I’d like to see more of.