My Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Hardback: 475 pages
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Publication Date: June 28th 2016
“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…more“
“On our wedding night,” she said, “I will cut out your tongue and swallow it. Then both tongues that spoke our marriage vows will belong to me, and I will be wed only to myself.”
*Warning: Long review ahead
It took me a bit longer than usual to get through this book and it’s not because I didn’t like it. I was just really busy wrapping up my semester and getting ready to leave university life. However, that wasn’t the only reason. Even though this book is very good, it still had some issues.
The strongest aspect of And I Darken is it’s world building, or rather, the author’s superb application of historical context. While reading, you can’t help but appreciate the effort White has put in to recreate a particular time period and culture not all of us are extremely familiar with.
It’s obvious the author studied Islam and the Ottoman Empire during the 15th and 16th century as she includes vocabulary, military movement, traditional dress, cultural customs, religious practices, and more to fully flesh out her setting and to accurately portray a piece of history to the best of her ability while still maintaining originality in her characters and plot.
In regards to the characters, Lada is not particularly kind. In fact, she is vicious and fierce, and determined to prove her worth as a leader and warrior. Being a woman, she is considered lesser, and in order for her to survive a world that does not value women as much as men, Lada believes she must be ruthless and even more dangerous than her male counterparts. Despite her cold exterior, Lada cares deeply for her brother and even though she does not dote on him, it is clear she loves him and wishes to protect him however she can.
“..If anyone is going to kill you, it will be me. Understand?”
Radu nodded, snuggling into her shoulder. “Will you protect me?
“Until the day I kill you.” She jabbed a finger into his side, where he was most ticklish, and he squealed with pained laughter.”
Unfortunately, her love for her brother and her love for her birth country pulls her mind and heart in different directions. As a result, her actions oft times contradict one other, making her a wonderfully flawed anti-heroine I can easily appreciate and despise at the same time.
Radu, on the other hand, is much more personable than his sister. He is kind and charming, and much more adept in politics than his sister and compatriots give him credit for. Unfortunately, he is also less battle-savvy, making him an easy target. Lada becomes his protector, and even though he loves his sister, one can see that he is angry with his inability to physically protect himself and that he must rely on Lada for protection. Both he and Lada struggle with their identities, Radu even more so than his sister, I believe. He never felt at home in Wallachia and so he wishes to find peace and a sense of belonging elsewhere. Also, he must come to grips with the fact that his feelings towards Mehmed may be more than just friendly.
Both Radu and Lada have their merits and their shortcomings. The narrative switches between their respective POVs, and so it’s easy to understand how and why each character behaves as they do, but that doesn’t mean it’s not frustrating when they fail to understand one another’s feelings and motivations. In this respect, White excelled in creating two very different and complex, multi-dimensional characters who struggle with their identities, their sense of belonging, and their purpose in life.
The issues I have with this book rest with the pacing and Mehmed himself. The pacing is relatively steady throughout the book, but there were sections that seemed to drag as nothing seemed to really change. The ending was certainly the most exciting part of the book, but it felt like it took a while to get there.
As for Mehmed, I couldn’t really see his appeal. Both Lada and Radu care deeply for him, but there wasn’t much about him I saw that would make him a suitable love interest. Both Lada and Radu frequently talked about how amazing he was but from the parts I read about him, all I saw was a somewhat chauvinistic, slightly misogynistic, occasionally self-righteous young man who didn’t treat his best friends as well as he could. I think the story would have benefited from having a third POV from Mehmed so we could better understand him as a person rather than having our opinions formed from secondary thoughts by Lada and Radu. Also, I didn’t like the way he treated Lada later on when they acknowledged their feelings for one another and I didn’t appreciate the way Lada seemed to lose her fierceness after she fell in love. I honestly think Radu and Lada deserve better than Mehmed at this point.
“Her spine was steel. Her heart was armor. Her eyes were fire.”
Besides those two things, I’d say And I Darken is a very well-done YA historical fiction. The writing is strong and the story is compelling, and the setting and sibling relationship between Lada and Radu are arguably the best parts about the book. The story isn’t perfect but it’s well-researched and the gender-swap of Vlad the Impaler to Vlada the Impaler is intriguing. Following the end of this book, I can’t wait to see what Lada does next!