Book Review: And I Darken (Kiersten White)

Publisher: Corgi Children’s

Pages: 484

Release Date: July 7th 2016

Summary (from Goodreads):

No one expects a princess to be brutal. And Lada Dragwyla likes it that way.

Ever since she and her brother were abandoned by their father to be raised in the Ottoman sultan’s courts, Lada has known that ruthlessness is the key to survival. For the lineage that makes her and her brother special also makes them targets.

Lada hones her skills as a warrior as she nurtures plans to wreak revenge on the empire that holds her captive. Then she and Radu meet the sultan’s son, Mehmed, and everything changes. Now Mehmed unwittingly stands between Lada and Radu as they transform from siblings to rivals, and the ties of love and loyalty that bind them together are stretched to breaking point.

The first of an epic new trilogy starring the ultimate anti-princess who does not have a gentle heart. Lada knows how to wield a sword, and she’ll stop at nothing to keep herself and her brother alive.

Review:

This is a book I’ve been meaning to pick up for a while and I’m so glad I got round to it.

This book is a retelling of Vlad the Impaler, but here it’s not Vlad it’s Lada. She fights assassins, Janissaries and sexism as she befriends the son of the Sultan imprisoning her and tries to get back to her beloved home of Wallachia.

Lada is by far one of the best characters I’ve ever read. She’s fighting against a society that wants to see her married off in a political marriage when she knows she’s a more capable soldier than all the men around her, and she’s ready to prove it. Lada is fierce about survival and will do anything to protect herself and her brother. She’s not your average ‘badass’ woman: if there’s a soft side to her it’s hidden beneath layers of anger and cruelty.

The only thing that does seem to soften Lada is her feelings towards Mehmed, the Sultan’s son. Although she uses him to her advantage, as she does everyone, he manages to leave a mark on her where no one else has managed, and these feelings complicate her plans for her future. But I love how single-minded she is in wanting to get back to Wallachia.

Like a lot of YA books, there’s a love triangle, but unlike most, I actually enjoyed this one. While Lada fights her feelings for Mehmed, her brother Radu is going through the same thing. It takes him a while to recognise what the feelings are, and it hurts when he sees Lada’s feelings being reciprocated and his going unnoticed. I felt so bad for him and was really rooting for them to end up together.

Radu and Lada both grow beautifully throughout the book, and so does their relationship. They don’t get on as children: Radu is upset she never wants to play with him, though she protects him in her own way when he needs it. He feels useless next to her fierceness and craves the love their father gives her. As they grow up around the Sultan’s court, their positions shift and Radu finds a place for himself amongst them, making the most of his charisma and charm to work for Mehmed, while Lada struggles to fit in and prove her worth.

This is a historical period I know little about and it was fascinating to read about. I loved the positive portrayal of Islam, which is one of the things that helps Radu find happiness. The portrayal of women was also really interesting: while Lada thinks she must be fierce and better than the men to have power, she sees the women of the court wield power in their own way. Some are happy to be married off and have babies, and that’s fine, and others use the position they’ve been put in to carve a better life for themselves. It was great to see the way they overcame the disadvantage that had been given to them as women in that society.

This is a dark story of politics, forbidden love and fierce, fierce characters. I thoroughly enjoyed it and have gone straight onto the sequel. If you’re a historical or even fantasy fan and enjoy something a bit dark then I’d definitely recommend this.

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