Published: June 28th, 2016
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.
Diversity: Radu is canonly gay – there are a number of lgbtq+ characters that Radu interacts with across the course of the story. There are also multiple characters of colour from the Ottoman Empire, including Mehmed. Majority of characters are Muslim and there is a lot of focus on the depiction of the faith.
Warnings: gore, death, some sexual content (although not explicit), internalised homophobia for a time, abuse within familial relationships
And I Darken is the answer to the question ‘what if Vlad The Impaler was a girl?’ and is everything I wanted from this book.
Kiersten White has a fantastic writing style. It’s a little dense at times, and makes you feel like you’ve read so much when you’ve read very little, but this density adds both to the time that the book is set and to the building of this world. It has so many layers with the civil unrest within the Ottoman Empire and the pressures from the borders and the pressures of fated prophecy, all of which affect the characters in such intense ways. White weaves this complex and decadent world wonderfully and every scene and character can be easily visualised.
The story follows three characters, although only two of them are point of view characters: Lada (Vlad herself), Radu (her brother) and Mehmed (the young sultan of the Ottoman Empire). Each has a great sense of person with their own wants and fears and needs, each complicated and have their own insight to bring to the story. Lada and Radu are both given to the Ottoman Empire by their father as political prisoners, but whilst Radu finds peace and happiness – of sorts – within the Islamic faith and the world around him, Lada is constantly at odds with her loyalties.
These are themes that continue through the book and it is decisions around these two ideas that lead to the ebbing and flowing of relationships and character growth.
The plot encompasses a massive time frame from when Lada is born to when she is sixteen years old and the events before she becomes known as ‘Vlad the Impaler’. In doing this, you get to see everything that made Lada who she is, which I think is a real benefit of the story – you are experiencing her development step by step. You know her and you know why she is as she is. This also gives the feeling of an epic chronicle, which I really enjoy.
I really enjoyed Lada’s character development. She had always been aggressive, harsh, violent – so there was so build up to the moment where she became twisted or cruel. Her story is one of finding power for herself and understanding the many ways that women have power in the world. Lada has her judgements challenged and destroyed. She finds moments of contentment despite herself. She finds strength and power she never thought she’d have. She falls in love and decides love isn’t worth everything she has ever wanted – freedom.
This also meant that you discover Radu’s sexuality with him and you, as the reader, experience first hand as he comes to understand and accept who he is. Of course, due to times, there is some homophobia which could be difficult for some people to read, but it is quite minor – the real focus comes from Radu’s unrequited love, as he tries to deal with what affect this has on his life.
And I Darken has such a fascinating premise which keeps building and building as the story goes on. White writes brilliantly – she knows her world and her characters amazingly well, giving each of them a sense of who they are even in the smallest of scenes. The research she did for this book is so obviously there and it has given foundations to this epic tale.
I can’t wait to read the sequel, Now I Rise!