And I Darken written by Kiersten White
Published by: Random House Children’s on June 28, 2016
Review Source: Publisher, Netgalley
Genres: Young Adult, Historical Fiction
Plot: Gender swapped origin story of Vlad the Impaler. Epic, right? There are spoilers in this review, so stop here if you do not want to know.
Review: Some books pull you in like a siren’s call, and before you know it you are dragged deep beneath the depths. That’s And I Darken. Here’s what to know:
What it’s about:
The story focuses on two siblings, Lada and Radu, who are sent to live as court hostages within the Ottoman Empire. Since there is no love to be had from either parent, the two must band together for the sake of survival. However, their relationship is tense and complicated, which is largely due to their inherent differences. Lada is the epitome of brutality. She completely rejects any and all feminine societal expectations, and would sooner bite your face off than embroider. I mean this literally, too. She would, without question, bite your face off if given reason. She does everything with a quiet intensity that rocks you to the core. She is single-minded in her pursuit to best the boys and rule Wallachia, and a refreshing spin on a YA heroine.
Then you have Radu, who is her counterpoint in every way. Lada’s ferociousness and general disdain for their shared situation is tempered by Radu’s sensitivity and fundamental need to be liked. Where Lada’s physic is described as angular and harsh, her brother is cherubic and dripping with innocence. While Lada rejects her surroundings, Radu assimilates, intensifying the contrast between the two. In spite of this, there is an unquestionable (although often unrealized) love for one another that is simultaneously strained and strengthened by the introduction of a third character: Mehmed, the son of the sultan and heir to the empire.
The three become friends, and eventually a strange love triangle forms when both Lada and Radu fall for Mehmed. Both siblings struggle with their emotions, but it is well understood that their love is a dangerous weakness to have. Homosexuality was punishable by death at the time, making Radu’s love lethal, and for Lada the situation isn’t much better. In her eyes, to love is to relinquish one’s sense of self. Women were viewed as objects to be used for pleasure or breeding, not equals. It is a fate worse than death.
There are throne games, political upheavals, and war in And I Darken. There are questions raised about love, and loyalty, and identity. Fair warning, there are no actual vampires or dragons in this book. If you are looking for a fantastical romp, this is not the book you are looking for. Kiersten White offers you something else entirely, and the end result is a genuine and soulful inspection of what it means to love, lose, and adapt as human beings.
Why I liked it:
- Quality writing. Kiersten White is a force to be reckoned with. Period. I am not a natural reader or lover of historical fiction, so when I tell you that this book grabbed me by the feels, please take it as high praise. Her prose is not only beautiful, but infused with enough historical accuracy to pull you into Lada and Radu’s world and convince you to rewrite history. Give this woman a loud round of applause, because she wholeheartedly deserves it.
- Characters I can rally behind. Three things I am sick of seeing in young adult: Whiny, vapid girls looking for a savior, characters so vanilla that it makes want to throw fruit at them, and insta-love. There is none of that there. Sweet relief, these characters feel like real people. They are messy, and diverse, and utterly human. It is beyond refreshing.
- Balanced plot and topics. White offers us a tale that has a little bit for everyone. There is history, action, and light romance. She also tackles topics such as religion, sexuality, and inclusiveness, all with an open and honest sophistication perfect for starting a discussion. She doesn’t shy away from the grit or sorrow her characters experience, nor does she place them into neat little troupes. She is incredibly honest and fair in her approach, so much so that I found myself stewing about the book long after I finished.
What will have you throwing the book across the room:
- This book is a slow burn. White takes her time world building. If you want a quick paced read, move along. However, I approve of the pace and I think White is taking the time she needs to do things right.
- Do not go into this unaware. I’ve seen reviews where people are shocked and surprised that there are no dragons or vampires. Unless Lada pulls a Daenerys Stormborn, I don’t see this series moving in into the realms of fantasy.
- The cliffhanger is intense. It just is.
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Who Should Snag It: If you are looking for strong female leads, diversity, and some fine writing, And I Darken is for you.
*I would like to thank Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a free ARC in exchange for a fair and honest review*