Title: And I Darken
Series: The Conqueror’s Saga #1
Author: Kiersten White
Genre: YA, Historical Fiction
Published: June 28th, 2016 (Delacorte Press)
Synopsis: 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.
“So the question becomes, Daughter of the Dragon,
what will you sacrifice? What will you let be taken
away so that you, too, can have power?”
What if the infamous Vlad the Impaler had been a girl? Lada Dragwyla is dismissed at birth by her warlord father for her gender, but grows up unexpectedly fierce and strong, the complete opposite of her younger brother Radu. Abandoned by their father as hostages in the Ottoman court, Lada and Radu find themselves in the enemy’s den with only each other to rely on, knowing that their every move is being watched. But a chance run-in with the Sultan’s youngest son Mehmed changes everything, and the siblings unexpectedly find themselves accompanying the Prince to distant Amasya as his companions, where, far from the watchful eyes of the court, the trio grow to be firm friends. Yet, Lada has not forgotten her home and still longs for vengeance on the Ottomans, but Radu is content in this new world, feeling safe for the first time in his life.
Let me start by saying this book is completely insane and even darker than I expected, and I loved every last page of it. Now that I’ve finally got around to rereading it, I can put together this long overdue review. And I Darken is definitely not fantasy like I thought at first glance, but rather historical fiction – with one major twist. I’ve seen this concept only once before, in Laura Andersen’s The Boleyn Trilogy, and I was really intrigued to see how this story would be approached. This time period was also one I knew little about when I started the series, and I held back from doing any research until I finished reading book 2, which turned out to be a very good decision as learning the facts alongside the story through this book was a lot of fun.
I found that I appreciate this book so much more after a re-read, and even more, after having completed the series. Initially, this felt really slow-paced, and many parts of the story felt like filler, but this book contributes to helping the reader understand exactly how the three central characters develop as they grow and how they are shaped by the events of their childhood – and as such, I’m a whole lot more sympathetic towards them, particularly Radu, whom I found rather whiny on my first read. It’s impossible not to feel for Radu when he starts realizing the truth about himself.
Lada is the best anti-hero I’ve ever come across. And I Darken pulls no punches in showing us just how brutal she is, how fierce she has had to become to survive in a world of men. Radu is a truly intriguing character. Initially something of a weakling, if a rather adorable one, it was a delight to see his character grow throughout the book. Lada was always the one to protect Radu, in her own way, but as Radu finds his own footing in the Ottoman court, learning to maneuver its politics and growing more devoted to Mehmed by the day, he also starts to consider it a home, feeling safer and more content than he ever did in Wallachia.
One scene I really loved in this book was the brief encounter Lada has with the women of the Ottoman Court, where she learns for the first time, the power a Lady can wield from behind the scenes, that some battles are fought entirely off the field, and most importantly, that everything comes at a cost. I thought that this scene was very well written and an important moment for Lada, who has grown up rejecting her femininity in an attempt to gain her father’s approval.
Overall, yes, this book is slow at times, possibly even boring now and again, but it is worth pushing through those parts because once the action starts in this series, it doesn’t stop. I loved how this book (and the entire series) is based on fact, but manages to be original all the same, and despite the obvious twists added to the tale, I was very impressed with how historically accurate it stayed. And I Darken is a beautifully written, thrilling read that will keep you on the edge of your seat. Highly recommended!
“Well, are you ready, Lada Dragwlya, daughter of the dragon?”
Fire burned in her heart, and her wounded soul spread out,
casting a shadow like wings across her country. This was hers.
Not because of her father. Not because of Mehmed.
Because the land itself had claimed her as its own.
“Not Dragwlya,” she said. “Lada Dracul.
I am no longer the daughter of the dragon.”
She lifted her chin, sights set on the horizon.
“I am the dragon.”