Title: And I Darken
Author: Kiersten White
Series: The Conquerors Saga, #1
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Release Date: June 28th 2016
*I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, which does not influence my review.*
Kiersten White’s And I Darken is a reimagining of the history of Vlad the Impaler, the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s iconic villain Dracula, if Vlad was in fact female. Being only familiar with White’s novel Paranormalcy, I can say that her writing has taken a huge leap forward. While I’d categorize her early work as being light and fun, there is nothing light and fun about And I Darken. Set in the 1400s, as the region of Wallachia comes under rule of the Ottoman Empire, the novel chronicles the story of Lada and her brother Radu, children of the Wallachian leader who are used as collateral in exchange for their father’s loyalty to the Ottoman sultan. Much of the book is devoted to the siblings’ early days, as they grow up under their ruthless, and often times, apathetic father. As a female, Lada learns from an early age that she isn’t as prized as a son. This understanding begins to define who she becomes as she ages. Radu, though their father’s youngest son, is from the very beginning a tender child. His soft nature, when compared to the ferociousness of his sister, becomes a disappointment to their father. Both children are shaped by how they are perceived by their father and both are equally eager to prove their worth to him.
And I Darken‘s two leads are wonderfully well-developed and distinct in their personalities. Radu has spent most of his life invisible and lonely. Bullied and cast aside, he has learned to be cunning, and while his kindness endears him to nearly everyone, it can sometimes work against him. The novel builds up to the moment when Radu and his sister meet the young Mehmed. For Radu, Mehmed’s friendship is a light in a very bleak world. Though close in age to his sister, Radu has never felt such a strong connection with another person as he does with Mehmed. While housed in the Ottoman Empire, Radu discovers Islam and something about the religion speaks deeply to Radu. It is this shared devotion and a curiosity about the world that bonds Radu and Mehmed.
It is without a doubt that Lada is the star of this novel. Born with a pugnacious nature and little beauty, Lada is everything the world does not want or expect from a female. Where her brother is sweet and caring, she is merciless and jealous. She wants more than the world is willing to allot to a girl, but she stands and takes it anyway. She’s bold and fierce, and if words were like daggers, she’d leave a trail of bodies in her wake. She tries to shield herself from weakness, knowing that at any time her enemies can use it against her. Though she is cruel to Radu, a part of her does this to keep distance between them, lest someone use him against her. Her relationship with Mehmed is hindered by her own belief that love is the greatest weakness. While the relationship she has with Radu and Mehmed plays a huge part in her story, her own ambitions and devotion to her land of Wallachia is what truly defines her.
White’s And I Darken features a vast array of characters from different worldviews. Though it’s a time when men rule, it is the women in this novel that shine. Though she has come to understand how little women are valued in the world, it is the powerful women that Lada comes across that teach her that power comes in many forms and it is often females that shape history. The relationships in this novel are complicated and ever-evolving. This is not a traditional story where characters fall in love and live happily-ever-after. While each of the leads experiences love for the first time, there are some obstacles that cannot be overcome and personal convictions that in the end take precedence.