Author: Kiersten White
Series: Conquerors Saga, #1
Released: June 28th 2018
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Length: 496 pages
Source: Publisher for review
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.From New York Times bestselling author Kiersten White comes the first book in a dark, sweeping new series in which heads will roll, bodies will be impaled . . . and hearts will be broken.
Before I say anything else, here’s a fair warning: And I Darken is a book so dark and twisted, so very disturbing that you’ll definitely lose sleep because of it. I did. It is also, however, Kiersten White’s best novel to date and the story that might prove to be defining – for her, as well as for young adult historical fiction. I dare say it’s one of the best this genre has to offer.
What if Vlad III Dracula, Prince of Wallachia, son of Vlad Dracul, brother to Mircea and Radu, was born a girl? Would she still be one of the most infamous rulers in the history of mankind? Or would she be a victim of circumstances, a lost girl governed and directed by men? In And I Darken, Kiersten White offers a version of Vlad that is female, but otherwise unchanged, and a fantastic tale of how she came to be known as Vlad (or rather Lada) the Impaler.
Lada Dragwlya and her younger brother Radu were left behind as children in Ottoman courts by their father as a guarantee that he will behave and not betray the sultan. They were subsequently forgotten by everyone, including the sultan himself, and accepted only by the sultan’s son Mehmed. While Radu came to view the Ottoman Empire as a new home where he was much happier and safer, Lada never forgot where she came from and who her real enemies are.
The third person narrative that goes back and forth between Lada and her brother Radu allows us to see a much broader picture of events. Lada’s chapters are understandably longer, but Radu’s are chosen and placed for maximal impact, always shedding light on something we’d rather not see. The relationship between Lada, Radu and Mehmed is a codependent mess, a tangle of feelings between three people who are mostly incapable of being selfless. It is a complicated knot of love, jealousy and anger so deep that it becomes defining. And I Darken cannot be considered a romance by contemporary standards, not with harems and wives and babies being born. But in an odd, disturbing way it is perhaps one of the strongest, truest romantic relationships I’ve ever read about.
White never tried to reshape the past to fit contemporary moral standards. That’s precisely what makes this book so hard to read, and what makes it stand out among many others. These challenges to our modern sensibilities delight us even while they make us squirm in our seats. The complete lack of regard for human life, embodied in our very heroine, combined with a profound disrespect for women and often children, is often enough to make our stomachs turn. But White turns it around cleverly in what can and should be understood as subversive feminist literature.
Recently I wrote about heroines that are supposedly strong and skilled, only to be proven otherwise at first serious challenge. Lada is not one of them. From the very first page, she is wild, savage and brutal, staying true to the historical accounts of Vlad the Impaler. The question of what made him (or in this case her) become that way is what White chose to explore by staying as close to historical facts as possible.
The journey from Lada the Ottoman captive to Lada the Impaler is far from being over. We’ve only just witnessed the potential, the direction she chose to take. If her beginnings are this cruel and vicious, I can’t even imagine what the future might bring. It’s almost a challenge from White to us readers to stay with her and witness this complete deterioration of her characters, not just Lada, but Mehmed and Radu as well. It will be so difficult, but if this book is any indication, it will also be brilliant.
A copy of this book was kindly provided by the publisher for review purposes. No considerations, monetary or otherwise, have influenced the opinions expressed in this review.