Book: And I Darken
Author: Kiersten White
Series: The Conqueror’s Saga #1
Genre: Historical Fiction
My Rating: 3.75/5 Stars
“The last time she was up here, she had been… staring up at the sky and dreaming of stars. Now, she looked down and plotted flames.”
Much of what I was expecting going into this book did not come to pass. This read was surprising, brutal, and heartbreaking. I’m excited for more.
And I Darken is the origin story of a gender bend Vlad the Impaler; Lada Dragwlya. A historical fiction where Lada and Radu, her younger and completely opposite brother, are neglected by their father and sacrificed to the Ottoman Empire. This is where they meet Mehmed, third in line to be Sultan, who quickly accepts them as friends. Together they experience the cruel world, together they cleverly learn to survive. But because of this they grow up too fast. Lada and Radu, in their own ways, are met with challenges to protect Mehmed at all costs, challenges that are capable of tearing down what they have built, challenges that are fated to destroy their relationships forever.
I guess I can explain here what I expected; the first chapter with little Lada, the second chapter and onwards, sixteen year old Lada ready to kill and destroy. But no, we got about two hundred pages of Lada growing up, alongside Radu, who also had his own chapters. At this point, while I was reading, it was like I was trudging through strong currents as I flipped the pages. Younger protagonists are not my thing. I rarely pick up middle grade because this age range for characters doesn’t appeal to me. But this was different. Sure, Radu acted like his age, but Lada was something else. She was a brutal twelve year old who said things like this:
“On our wedding night,” she said, “I will cut out your tongue and swallow it. Then both tongues that spoke our marriage vows will belong to me, and I will be wed only to myself. You will most likely choke to death on your own blood, which will be unfortunate, but I will be both husband and wife and therefore not a widow to be pitied.”
I mean… Yeah I forgot she was twelve.
At the same time, the story picked up for me after two hundred pages, when the characters significantly aged to late teens.
The pacing of this book very much relied on time jumps to move the plot forward and get to the point. Time jumps that could range from a week to years. They were constant. Though as much as I appreciate not going on and on about plot points that don’t play a significant role in the story the author wants to tell, I felt as if certain points were a cop-out? “Oh it’s no problem that Lada was severely injured, let’s skip ahead a week to when Lada is way better. We don’t want to see her recovery, or anything crazy like that, we want to see her be her brutal self again.” Let us see her struggle, she doesn’t have to be strong all the time.
Not to mention, a lot of smaller issues throughout the story were being resolved fast. Lada walking into the Harem to “kill” Mehmed. No action. Lada proving she can lead seemed too easy. Lada and Nicolae wanting to run away because Mehmed was sick but he was actually there. They started off as “oh this is going to be good,” moments, but ended with nothing happening.
Both Lada and Radu idealized Mehmed, in their own ways, and ultimately romance was involved. I honestly don’t understand what they saw in Mehmed. Maybe he was the first person that ever made them feel secure, the only person who secured them a home. Though Lada was stubborn in that aspect. He is not someone who is easy to love, in the sense that being Sultan demands so much of a person, has expectations to have relationships with multiple people. They were setting themselves up for heartbreak.
It’s always difficult reading a book with dual perspectives because if you don’t enjoy one character’s chapters, in this case Radu, then there really isn’t a proper way to avoid it without skipping half the book. Yes I loved Lada’s chapters, I loved Nicolae’s character more than I was expecting, and yes I love his friendship with Lada.
“Do you want to kiss me?”
“Please take this in the kindest way possible, but I would sooner try to romance my horse. And I suspect my horse would enjoy it more than you.”
“Your horse deserves better.”
They are definitely the two characters I’m excited to read about in the sequel.