Title: “And I Darken”
Author: Kiersten White
Pages (paperback): 512 pages
Original Publishing Date: 28 June 2016
Synopsis (from the inside flap):
“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.”
Trigger/Content warnings for the novel:
- blood and gore
- cissexism and cisnormativity
- attempted sexual assault
Representation in the novel:
- Muslim characters
- men attracted to men (main characters)
- women attracted to women (side characters)
- f/f couple (side characters)
- characters of color
And I Darken by Kiersten White is a historical fiction novel about Vlad the Impaler…if Vlad was a girl. It follows Lada and her younger brother Radu when their father abandons them in the Ottoman coursts when they are young. They then become friends with Mehmed, one of the sultan’s sons, and they are soon thrust into the world of politics, all with their own agenda.
Let me preface this with saying that historical fiction usually isn’t my go-to genre unless it is accompanied by fantasy or paranormal. The Diviners by Libba Bray, for example: it is very much historical fiction, but it has some paranormal aspects as well. And I Darken, on the other hand, is purely historical fiction, set in the 1400s during the rise of the Ottoman Empire. I was cautious before I started reading it because I know historical fiction is not my favorite, but I heard so many good things from reviewers I trust.
I had nothing to worry about: I absolutely loved it. I’m not even sure where to start…
Well. First, the characters. They were all written so well, especially the trio (Lada, Radu, and Mehmed). In the beginning, the reader starts with Lada and Radu when they are young children, when they still lived with their father in Wallachia, where he ruled. Throughout the book, the reader is privy to Lada’s and Radu’s thoughts and how they change as they age. They also notice a change as Mehmed grows older from the perspective of either Lada or Radu (they both had their own POV, but Mehmed did not). However, even side characters are fleshed out. Some more than others, no doubt, but it is wonderful to see such time put into side characters instead of just protagonists.
On to the plot and, with it, the writing… They were both very engaging I personally loved seeing Lada and Radu grow up and become even more involved in the politics of empire in their own way: Radu was neck-deep in knowing the different politicians intimately and in the court, whereas Lada focused on becoming one with the Janissaries.
I’m assuming it is similar to Game of Thrones….if Game of Thrones was actually good, that is (I kid, of course, except not really because I don’t like the A Song of Ice and Fire series whatsoever). Anyway, I digress.
On top of that, there is just as much emphasis on the characters’ personal lives as their political ones. There are a lot of discussions and description of political happenings throughout the novel, but the personal lives of characters, such as romance and other relationships, are also fleshed out. Overall, I could barely put it down, and there were multiple times I stayed up extremely late just to see what happened next.
Also, this is completely a personal thing, but I absolutely love the trope of queer people marrying out of convenience so they do not have to worry about societal expectations (i.e. they marry so they can go after their own partners).
However, there was something that was a bit puzzling for me. It did not detract from my enjoyment of the book, but it did make me pause. Now, there are not going to be spoilers; it is mostly just going to be vague musings that one would understand if they read the book without giving away any sort of spoilers.
What got me was the certain character appearance near the end of the book. I understand why its use in the overarching plot of the book (to add in drama and all that), and it did seem plausible, but it just seemed odd to me. It seemed out of place, and it was so close to the end that the reader does not have a chance to get reconnected all that much (it is a character seen earlier in the novel). I did not totally dislike it, but I thought, at first, that it was an odd choice.
Outside of that, though, I absolutely loved And I Darken. It is probably one of my favorite reads of this year, which is saying something, considering it is outside of my usual genre preference.
I would definitely recommend it to someone who wants to read a dark political YA historical fiction novel