Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Synopsis: 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, who’s expected to rule a nation, 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.
Review: There are a few ways to get me excited about a book, and they include a gorgeous cover, tell me it is historical fiction and promise intrigue and brutality. And of course, put Kiersten White’s name on the cover! So And I Darken pretty much had me from the very beginning.
I am a big fan of Kiersten. And even though she has ruined unicorns for me forever, I still adore her and her work. And while it is exciting when an author you love brings out a new title, it is always a little scary – what if you don’t love this book as much as the others? What if you are disappointed after you have hyped it up in your own mind? So, excitement and fear aside, I entered this world with all, and no, expectations at all – and I was NOT disappointed!
I am a big fan of Kiersten. And even though she has ruined unicorns for me forever, I still adore her and her work. And while it is exciting when an author you love brings out a new title, it is always a little scary – what if you don’t love this book as much as the others? What if you are disappointed after you have hyped it up in your own mind? So, putting excitement and fear aside, I entered this world with all, and no, expectations – and I was NOT disappointed!
And I Darken is a unique YA historical fiction story with everything you could want, including a fierce, wild, cunning and determined protagonist – Lada. She will not comply with the expectations set on a young girl, especially after she becomes a pawn in a vicious political game she never agreed to play. She has been betrayed by those she loved, she fears becoming what is expected of her, and she is determined to not let anything break her. She is the daughter of Vlad Dragwlyra – but she will become her own her person, at nearly any cost. She will become The Implaer. She will be THE DRAGON.
Lada loves nothing more than her homeland, Wallachia, and her father. She has spent her whole life becoming what is needed to earn her father’s love and do what is needed to be able to defend her homeland and its people. But soon she will be ripped from both, as Lada and her brother, Radu, are both left to the mercy Ottoman Empire due to the deception of their own father. The man who Lada idolised and Radu feared, the man who was a fierce warrior, their homelands protector, leaves both the Lada and Radu with the Ottoman Empire as collatorial for his loyalty – their very lives hanging on the hope their father can remain true to his word.
Lada and her brother Radu find themselves in enemy territory, with their very existence only being allowed to continue while their father remains loyal to the empire. Each find their own way to cope within this situation – Lada relies on her resilience and inner hatred for all those standing in her way, while Radu befriends the Sultan’s son, Mehmed, and tries to find his own place in this new world.
The storyline follows Lada and Radu growing up in the Ottoman Empire, with Lada fighting at every turn to prove that while she may be a girl, she is not to be messed with, while Radu fights to fit in somewhere. Along the way Lada only becomes more determined to reclaim Wallachia and her rightful place, while Radu finds his own – but everything changes when the one person they both hold dear, Mehmed, becomes heir to the Ottoman empire.
The story alternates between Lada and Radu, in third person, allowing us to follow each of their very different journeys. These siblings could not be more different if they tried, which makes it very difficult for each to be happy as they both want very different things but do not want to forsake the other. Radu is a soft soul, a child that is constantly crying and being bullied, and as he grew up, his soft-heartedness didn’t change (much to Lada’s disgust). And while Lada uses her ferocious to inspire fear and dread, Radu uses his softness and trusting nature to gain the trust of others. But it is not just a battle of a heart of stone and a gentle nature, they are very different people at their core. Lada is a rebel, wanting to escape her chains, while Radu is looking for a way to fit into the surroundings that he now calls home. Radu finds religion where Lada doesn’t believe in such follies.
But there are two things that keep them together: their loyalty to each other, and their loyalty to Mehmed. The dynamics between these three are interesting and well developed, especially as they grow older, as Lada becomes more ferocious, Radu becomes more comfortable and Mehmed becomes more powerful. And then to make it more complex, there are matters of the heart…
What I love about this book is the diversity. And for me to say that, it is a big deal. I don’t like diversity for diversity sake, but this book is filled with diversity with meaning. It is a part of a characters journey; it is part of what makes each character themselves. It creates a level of complexity within the characters and storylines, without the “thing” being the issue at all – the issue is different beliefs, morals and hopes.
I really enjoyed the various levels of diversity within this story, but my personal favourite is the religious aspect. I feel that when people think about diversity, religion is quite often left out of the equation, especially in YA. I feel that this is an important and understated aspect of diversity, especially in the modern world with such an array of beliefs across the world, or even as close as next door. And as much as I don’t like diversity just for the sake of it, I equally don’t like it when it comes with an agenda. And for me, the diversity (on all levels) was written brilliantly and I credit Kiersten for including it within the story with truth, courage and honesty, without making a big deal about it, without pushing an agenda, for just allowing this aspect of the character to be explored in an honest way.
The world building was beautifully executed with detailed and glorious descriptions, with the historic setting of the story being extremely well written, feeling truthful and captivting (and terrifying). The character building and growth was brilliantly written, with each character having their own journey, issues, strengths, hopes and fears, and the relationships were complex, interesting, complicated and true. Lada is fierce, strong and brilliant, while Radu is tender, smart and remarkable – both are passionate and interesting and I was completely enamoured with their story. The only thing I would say I would have liked to have seen a little more of is the brutality. Don’t get me wrong, we certainly see ruthlessness and gore, and I am sure there is only more to come! It is still fierce and powerful and utterly brilliant!
And I Darken is another stellar book from Kiersten White that I thoroughly enjoyed. Filled with politics, fierceness, war, betrayal, insecurities, manipulation, brutality, loyalty, determination, bloodshed, strong characters, amazing plot, and a gardener you would never want in your own yard ;) You will not be disappointed in this book!
*Note, my comments regarding religion in this book are not a reflection of personal beliefs. It is all about respect and understanding, and that is the only thing I am advocating for.