Book Review: And I Darken – Kiersten White

And-I-Darken-Kiersten-White-Book-Review

Title: And I Darken (2016)
Series: The Conquerors Saga – Book 1
Author: Kiersten White
Genre: Young Adult, Historical
Extent: 484 pages
Release Date: June 28, 2016
Rating: ★★★★★

Goodreads Description

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, 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.

Review

The first book I’ve heard of Kiersten White is Paranormalcy, which, honestly speaking, didn’t impress me that much. This was back when paranormal romance YA was everything I read, and Paranormalcy struck me as very “been there done that”. I actually can’t recall what the book is about at all, and reading its summary on Goodreads didn’t ring any bells. And I Darken, however, was so different — so much better — from Paranormalcy, the two didn’t even seem like they were written by the same person… and in a good way, too.

Despite the fact that this book is shelved as ‘Fantasy’ on Goodreads, there isn’t actually any magic. And I Darken was really more historical rather than anything, kind of a loose retelling of Vlad the Impaler with characters changed. The book opens at the birth of our very own Vlad — Ladislav ‘Lada’ Dragwlya, a girl, in this retelling — and follows her as she grows up.

As the baby latched on with surprising fierceness, the nurse offered her own prayer. Let her be strong. Let her be sly. She looked over at the princess, fifteen, lovely and delicate as the first spring blossoms. Wilted and broken on the bed.

And let her be ugly.

If you think you’ve encountered brutal heroines before, wait until you meet Lada. Born a princess of Wallachia, Lada is tough, violent, wicked cunning, and sometimes actually evil. She doesn’t flinch when inflicting pain on someone else, she’s fierce and doesn’t scare easy, and she’s loyal to only herself. She also hates that she is born a woman, a theme that’s reinforced over and over again throughout the story.

Our second main character is Radu, Lada’s brother, who provides a very stark contrast to Lada’s fierceness. Where Lada is jagged edges and sharp teeth, Radu is gentle hands, soft smiles, and eternally full of fear. He’s flimsy, he’s weak, he’s nothing a ruler should be — at least until the second half of the book unfolds and we see that he, too, has his own strength and that and he’s smart enough to use it.

“People respond to kindness, Lada. They trust a smile more than a promise that you will leave them choking on their own blood.”

Lada snorted. “Yes, but my promise is more sincere than your smiles.”

We also have Mehmed, the sultan’s son, forming the last leg of an unlikely trio with Lada and Radu, who to be honest doesn’t really much of an impression to me. I was more interested in the other supporting characters: Nicolae, Bogdan, Lazar, Kumal, and others. There are a lot of characters in this book, but they all have their purpose.

For a book set in an era where men dominated absolutely, And I Darken has a wonderfully interesting cast of female characters. Rather than the men, I was more taken by the women: Mara, a sultan’s wife, is bitter but smart and strategic, resigned to her fate but also determined to make the best out of her position; Halima, another wife, is happy, grateful, naive; Huma, Mehmed’s mother, is ambitious and cold, and she has waited forever for her chance to pounce. In spite of their rare appearances, these women are so very different and so well-characterised that I delighted whenever they grace the pages.

“But there are many ways to be powerful. There is power in stillness. There is power in watching, waiting, saying the right thing at the right time to the right person. There is power in being a woman—oh yes, power in these bodies you gaze upon with derision.” Huma ran one hand down her ample breasts, over her stomach, and rested it on her hip. “When you have something someone else wants, there is always an element of power.”

The pacing of And I Darken is quite slow, but I think it suits the story very well. While there is some action, the bulk of the tension actually comes from the politics between the characters and the empires they’re involved with. Other than that, there is a lot of plotting to start wars, overthrow leaders, murder brothers — and some romance, but not too much. I did think that the first half of the book was more interesting than the second, but I was mostly kept engaged the whole time.

Now, I know very little about the Ottoman Empire and can’t comment on the historical accuracy, but I did a little bit of Googling after finishing And I Darken and would say that for the most part, it seems like White did her best recreating the setting. It was satisfying to read about a historical period not very often chosen in YA fiction.

“The price of living seems to always be death.”

“And that is why you become a dealer of death. You feed death as many people as you can to keep it full and content so its eye stays off you.”

There are more things I’d like to mention (such as Lada and Radu’s relationship, squee, as well as how elegantly the theme of religion is woven into the story), but I fear this review is already several paragraphs too long, so I’m going to stop here. Overall, I really enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone who loves a slow-boiled story with political intrigue and engaging characters. Just a really intense, gripping read!

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44 thoughts on “Book Review: And I Darken – Kiersten White

  1. Wow this book sounds really interesting. I really like the fact that Vlad here is a girl–that change alone would bring a whole new edge to the story and there’s so much you can do with a vicious female burning her way through a society dominated by men. Love this review Reg! I think this might be a great addition to diverse YA books that are grittier and darker than most people would expect YA to be.

    Could you recommend me a few YA Paranormal Romance? What’s your favorite book from that genre?

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    • It was SO interesting! The setting was refreshing, and the characters were so strong in their own way – I love all the women in here, haha. It’s definitely a grittier, darker YA book than most. 🙂

      It’s hard to say what my favourite paranormal romance is! I haven’t read that genre in about three years, and the most recent one I read is probably This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab, but there’s very little to no romance in it. I’d recommend the book, though – Schwab is an AMAZING writer and her world-building is solid as rocks.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I highly recommend it, but I’d also say that it’s definitely not for everyone, haha. For me the writing style was enough to keep me going, but perhaps not others. I hope you’ll like it though if/when you give it a try. ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  2. YAY so glad to hear you enjoyed this! I’ve been wanting to read And I Darken since I first heard of it but it seems like people either really love it or don’t like it at all so I’m still on the fence of whether or not I should read it but your review has me wanting to read it! ;D

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    • I don’t think I’ve actually seen a negative review for this book except on Goodreads, but I’m sure they exist! I think it’s just a matter of taste, haha. I hope you do pick up this book, though – I really loved it. 😀

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  3. Brutal, evil, cunning women? Sign me up. 🙌
    But honestly, this book sounds amazing from your review. I rarely read a fantasy sets in Ottoman empire so it should be interesting based on that point alone. And to know that the ladies are killing it make me want to read And I Darken even more.

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  4. Oooooo this review got me excited. I personally adore Paranormalcy, so hearing that And I Darken was even BETTER? Even from someone who didn’t care for Paranormalcy? Oh man. I can’t wait. Great review!

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  5. I’m so glad you enjoyed this! I had a feeling you would, I feel like these are the types of books I always picture you reading haha I really enjoyed it but couldn’t give it the full 5 stars because I was expecting something different and that was a downfall but I’m really excited to see where the series goes from here!

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  6. This sounds so fascinating. I love YA books that really delve into what it must be like to be a woman who has no power in society at all. For most of us, it’s really hard to imagine what kind of person that would make you become. When I think of all my worst moments – when I’ve felt unsafe, when people have yelled things at me, when I’ve read awful things on the news – and multiply that into an entire life… well, I can’t imagine what that would do to you. Hating and resenting having been born a woman would make sense to me, under those circumstances.

    I think it takes a smart author to effectively use lots of different characters as well. I find side characters with little purpose to be frustrating, especially in historical/fantasy books, where I usually have trouble remembering who everyone is anyway.

    Amazing and thoughtful review, as always. 🙂

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    • It was so interesting for exactly that reason, I think! I have to wonder though if I’d be resentful and angry if I’d been born into these circumstances, or if I’d just be like “eh well, this is the way it is” since I wouldn’t know any other way to live.

      And yes, for sure. I loved how the women in this book have different strengths, and that it was acknowledged how being a woman can be a weapon in itself as well. I was really pleasantly surprised by this because the author’s earlier books didn’t have this finesse, as far as I can remember! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I have seen so many amazing reviews for this book already since it’s release and it has made me so so excited to pick it up an start reading (hopefully I’ll have gotten around to it before the end of this month). Lada sounds like a really interesting character but, before even picking this book up, I already love Radu. It sounds like the two have a close relationship as well and I can’t wait to read it and find out for myself. Though honestly it sounds like all the characters are amazingly written which is always a plus with any book really. Also I don’t think I’ll even be too bothered with the slow start to this book, if I’m invested in the story and the characters I probably won’t even noticed (kind of like what I do with V.E. Schwab’s books).
    Great review Reg! 😀

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    • Ahhh I can’t wait for you to read it! I hope you’ll love it as much as I have. ❤

      Honestly Radu took his time to grow on me – I think next to Lada, especially at first, he was just so washed-out and weak-willed that Lada completely took over the stage quite a lot. I enjoyed the other characters as well, but I have to say that the female ones are especially well-characterised. The men are not as fun. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • I hope so too, though I feel given the amount of praise it’s received its gonna be the kind of book that’s impossible not to love!
        Hmm, in that case it’ll be interesting to see what I think of him when I read it, I think I remember seeing in another view that it took him time to grow into his character as well, but I imagine Lada would take centre stage, it seems like she would kind of demand attention a little as well! 🙂

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  8. Hey, Reg. I have to say, you write a pretty awesome review. OK, scratch that. You write an awesome review of this one. I am so sold. I need the book now, even though I’m slightly bummed that the book doesn’t have any magical elements in it.

    Great review once again. And don’t forget that chocolate is love!

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    • Eeep, thank you so much! That means a lot, haha. I kind of like that the book has no magic, actually – fantasy is a VERY popular genre and sometimes it’s refreshing not to have magic, haha. I hope even without it, you’ll like the book, though. 🙂

      Chocolate is love! ❤

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  9. I’m not a huge fan of historical novels, but I have heard a bit about that book before, and I love the cover (this is kind of shallow to admit, haha). I am so glad you enjoyed it so much, and thrilled that there’s a great place for women in that story. Great review! 🙂

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  10. The only other book I’ve read (I think) that is non-magic fantasy is the Winner’s Curse trilogy (which I ADORED.) It’s so intriguing to see how authors can pull it off, create a whole new world, having to give this world the pazzazz without all the flashiness of magic. Great review. It might just have convinced me to pick it up. XD

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    • Ahhh I’ve actually read that one as well, and I liked it too! I liked this one more though just because there’s less focus on romance, haha – I feel like The Winner’s trilogy as a whole is very focused on the pairing.

      I hope you pick this one up! I really enjoyed it. ❤

      Like

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