And I Darken by Kiersten White

And I Darken by Kiersten White

And I Darken by Kiersten White
The Conquerors Saga #1
On Sale Date: June 28, 2016
Young Adult Fiction, Historical, Medieval
Delacorte Press, 496 pages
Source: ARC from publisher
Rating: 4.5 Stars
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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.

A Unique Twist - Reinventing the Infamous Vlad the Impaler - Into a Girl

What if Vlad the Impaler, the historical inspiration for Dracula, was a girl? A princess who is every bit as cunning and ruthless. With such an intriguing concept, And I Darken takes a unique look behind the historic Vlad, now as Lada Dragwlya - Princess of Wallachia. I could not resist this story with its promise to reveal what shaped her into the warrior princess whose very name would strike fear and respect into all. Warfare, political intrigue and the historical setting of the Ottoman Empire all made And I Darken a must read.

No one is safe

Kiersten White is not afraid to break the mold a few times, no one is safe. It is this very danger, living on the edge of a sword, that makes it possible to sympathize with them. Assassins, hidden rivals, and dark agendas abound, leaving no one untouched.

Fierce Characters that Drive the Story 

And I Darken revolves around Lada, her brother Radu, and Mehmed - son of the sultan. Each reflecting a different aspect of the story giving readers a rounded look at the events which shape them. With its absorbing narrative,  And I Darken challenges readers to dive into their fierce personalities - flaws and all. 

Lada is a juxtaposition of traits - breaking traditional stereotypes in YA literature. Ruthless and ambitious, she despises the fact that she is born a female - something which leads to an almost maddening drive to prove her worth beyond her sex and station. Yet, it is this very fierce and passionate nature that burns so bright - making it hard to turn away. 

"If Lada was the spiky green weed that sprouteds in the midst of a drought-cracked riverbed, Radu was the delicate, sweet rise that wilted in anything less than perfect conditions."

What causes Lada's hatred for the Ottomans is skillfully unraveled with her childhood and hostage years vividly reimagined. It's not often when you can get inside a character's head, to witness events that shape them, seeing the wheels turning as they plot and plan - with Lada I could. At times it was difficult and harsh, others sad and beautiful. 

“Lada had a sense for power--the fine threads that connected everyone around her, the way those threads could be pulled, tightened, wrapped around someone until they cut off the blood supply. Or snapped entirely.” 

Radu is all things Lada is not. Born a man, he is soft, tender-hearted, and unerringly beautiful - drawing all those to him. His very nature makes it impossible for him to fit in with the harsh realities of his father's kingdom.

"Radu knew she envied him his ability to persuade people to trust him. She looked sharp, contrary, and sly. Hers was the face of a fox raiding the livestock. Radu's was the face of an angel."

Though he never seems to gain his father's approval, while at the court of the Ottoman Sultan he seems to thrive for the first time. He befriends the sultan's son Mehmed, finding peace, friendship and acceptance in the daily life, even embracing the religion and converting to Islam. Yet, there's a surprisingly cunning side to Radu that becomes more and more evident as Radu, Mehmed, and Lada's live become irrevocably linked. 

     Radu gazed at the gilded ceiling in exasperation. "People respond to kindness, Lada. They trust a smile more than a promise you will leave them choking on their own blood."
     Lada snorted. "Yes, but my promise is more sincere than your smiles."
     She was right, of course. It had been a lifetime since his smile felt anything more than a desperate and false ploy. He sniffed, trying to keep the mood light, keep his sister calm.
"But no one knows that."
     "Someday they will, Radu. Someday they will."

Historical Setting of the Ottoman Empire

Set in Romania during the reign of the Ottoman Empire, a time we don't often see explored in YA, And I Darken is a feast for the senses as customs and cultures are rendered in vivid detail. From Lada and Radu's childhood in the Kingdom of Wallachia to their time spent in Sultan's court where they are held as political prisoners - the dark and beautiful are blended in a consuming tale.

A Dark and Sinuous Romance - A Poisonous Love Triangle Not Seen In YA

Mehmed, son of the sultan, is the tie that binds the three together, whose affection are the driving force that creates a love triangle - dark and poisonous. I did not care for him but rather became fascinated with how Lada and Radu each perceived a different reflection of him, and when together, the dynamics, unlike the usual YA romance, very complex.

In the End

And I Darken vividly reveals a time in history not often seen in YA literature while complex relationships and true-to-life brutality of war and politics makes this appropriate choice for older/mature teens. Action and intrigue, romance, and untypical characters bring something unpredictable to the reading experience in this fascinating series opener.