Title: And I Darken
Author: Kiersten White
Genre: Historical Fiction
Pages: Hardcover, 475
Publication: June 28, 2016
No one expects a princess to be brutal. And Lada Dragwlya likes it that way. Ever since she and her gentle younger brother, Radu, were wrenched from their homeland of Wallachia and abandoned by their father to be raised in the Ottoman courts, Lada has known that being ruthless is the key to survival. She and Radu are doomed to act as pawns in a vicious game, an unseen sword hovering over their every move. For the lineage that makes them special also makes them targets.
Lada despises the Ottomans and bides her time, planning her vengeance for the day when she can return to Wallachia and claim her birthright. Radu longs only for a place where he feels safe. And when they meet Mehmed, the defiant and lonely son of the sultan, Radu feels that he’s made a true friend—and Lada wonders if she’s finally found someone worthy of her passion.
But Mehmed is heir to the very empire that Lada has sworn to fight against—and that Radu now considers home. Together, Lada, Radu, and Mehmed form a toxic triangle that strains the bonds of love and loyalty to the breaking point.
So, when I first heard about this book, I was very intrigued. A fictional, historical account of Vlad the Impaler? Count me in!
I didn’t really know much about Vlad the Impaler going in, but I knew that, historically, he was a great warrior, hence the nickname. However, this isn’t your regular historical fiction novel. And I Darken is a gender swapped version of Vlad the Impaler’s story.
So not only would I be reading historical fiction, which is, slowly but surely, becoming one of my favorite genres, the main character is a badass female.
Picking up this book, I didn’t really know what to expect. I had heard good reviews from some of the blogs I follow, but I didn’t want to get my expectations too high.
As soon as I opened the book, I had an intense desire to keep reading. It blew my expectations out of the freaking water.
For me, the beginning of this book started out slowly. It was still really entertaining, but I felt like I wasn’t able to connect with the characters as much as I did in the latter portion of the novel. However, seeing as the first half or so of the book takes place in the main protagonists’ younger years, I think the reason I didn’t necessarily connect was because of the characters’ ages.
When Lada, Radu, and Mehmed were younger, they were much like caricatures of their older selves– strong in only one defining characteristic. Lada was strong. Radu was weak. Mehmed was fanatical.
However, as these characters aged, I grew to love them. The older they got, the less they seemed like caricatures, and the more they became complex, authentic humans. For example, Lada softened up quite a bit and learned to be more empathetic towards others, and I really loved that.
Radu, who was, probably, my favorite character, became such an incredible character. He exhibited his strength, not in showing an overt amount of masculinity, but in his unwavering intelligence. He was so incredibly clever.
Mehmed was probably the most stagnant in terms of character development. If anything, he grew to be more compassionate toward his people and more clever against his enemies. I’d like to think that Radu and Lada groomed him to become, as his historical influence suggests, Mehmed the Conqueror.
The side characters in this book were also excellent, especially the females. All of the women in this novel were powerful in their own way; they embraced their situation and created power for themselves, most specifically Mehmed’s mother, Huma. I think that all the women showed Lada that just because you’re a woman and in a disadvantaged situation, doesn’t mean that you’re powerless.
In terms of relationships, I really loved how Mehmed and Lada’s developed. They loved each other in a breathless and passionate, yet authentic way. In fact, at the end of the novel, (I won’t mention it specifically to avoid spoilers) I felt like my heart had literally been torn from my chest.
I’m really glad that Kiersten White decided to make one of her fantastic main characters gay. The thing that I love the most is that we didn’t know, (of course, I had my suspicions), until closer to the end of And I Darken. White made sure that we knew this character truly and fully before she disclosed his sexuality. I just really want him to have a happy ending with someone who truly loves him in the full way that he wants to be loved.
Besides all the fantastic characters and relationships, my favorite part, above all, was the religious factor in the book. I don’t know much about Islam, but I feel like I got to see a rare, positive representation of the religion. It was ingrained in a lot of the book’s story, and I loved it so so so much.
And I Darken was such a beautiful and pleasant surprise. Kiersten White has torn out my heart and kept it hidden in the pages of this book. I feel like I’m so connected to this story and these characters and that I’ve been filled with a weird sort of understanding.
This book was just really fucking good, and if you like historical fiction, I would highly recommend reading it.