Book Review: And I Darken | Kiersten White

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My Rating: ⭐  ⭐  ⭐  ⭐

Book Details

Hardback: 475 pages

Publisher: Delacorte Press

Publication Date: June 28th 2016

Goodreads 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…more


Review

“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!

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22 thoughts on “Book Review: And I Darken | Kiersten White

  1. I always forget about this book for some odd reason, but every time I read a review, I get super excited about reading it again. I love complex characters and Lada seems SUPER interesting. Your review definitely made me want to read this book super soon again. Although Mehmed seems a bit eh. D: Good to know going in. Wonderful review!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lada is brilliant! She’s so difficult but so easy to love, too. Lots of girl power in this book. Mehmed is definitely eh, but he might get better in the next one! Thanks so much! Hope you enjoy it if you ever pick it up 😀

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    1. Yes! Please do read it. It sat on my shelf for a few months, too, and now I regret taking so long to read it haha. Hope you enjoy it once you get around to it! 😀

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  2. I LOVED THIS BOOK so I’m glad to hear that you enjoyed it too! I can’t speak re: historical accuracy and representation, but I really, really love what it tries to do with the characters and I love how surprisingly feminist it feels to me. Like, the female characters are just super awesome and I love how White contrasts between the different types of female strength (if that makes sense). Great review, Azia. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. YAY! So glad you love it as well! And that’s one thing I forgot to mention: the feminist aspect. I was lucky enough to see White in person and she talked about how she wanted to highlight a woman’s strength, not just through Lada, but through her other female characters as well. I think she executed that wonderfully, especially by contrasting the different types of strengths. Thank you, Reg! Can’t wait to read Now I Rise next month! 😀

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  3. Great review for this book Azia, I really loved And I Darken as well. I’ll admit it wasn’t quite what I expected it would be but in a good way if that makes sense. Like I wasn’t sure what to expect but what I got from And I Darken was better than what I expected it would be. Lada is a brilliant character, honestly I don’t think there’s another like her in YA books. Her and Radu were brilliantly developed and I loved their growth throughout this book and their relationship with one another. 🙂
    I do think this book would have benefited from some chapters from Mehmed’s POV but at the same time I thought it was interesting seeing him only through Lada and Radu’s eyes you know?
    Again great review. 😀 ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much, Beth 🙂 And I didn’t really know what to expect of the book either until I attended the conversation with the author in April. Hearing Kiersten White talk about her book was the best thing. I really got to understand the character she was trying to create and after reading it, I thought she executed Lada (and Radu) exceedingly well.
      I liked that we saw Mehmed through their eyes, but I also felt it was really limiting in some aspects, mostly concerning his personality. I felt like there was a lot of focus on what he meant to them rather than on his actual behavior, which kind of took away from him as an individual/independent character. I hope my opinion of Mehmed changes in the next book, though. I wanna love all her characters because I really like And I Darken as a whole!
      Thanks again! ❤ 😀

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s all right. Yeah this book feels like a big surprise in terms of what it actually is, but either way it was a really enjoyable read for me as well. Oh she really did, both Lada and Radu were amazing characters and I agree with you on Mehmed. On one hand I liked seeing him through their eyes but on the other it was kind of limiting, almost like he wasn’t his own character but an extension of theirs.
        That’s all right! 😀 ❤

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh I remember seeing so many reviews on this book back when it was released! I had always been meaning to read it, but never got around to it… I’m glad to hear you liked it despite a few problems. It’s great to find a well-researched YA book as well! Can’t wait to read this sometime. ❤ Lovely review, Azia!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. While I wasn’t super familiar with the time period I do agree with you that I thought the author did an excellent job with her portrayal!
    I thought the characters were so complex and well developed, it’s such a fantastic book.
    Great review! 😁

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  6. Amazing review, Azia! 🙂 This book sounds so awesome. I love anti-heroes/anti-heroines as MCs but I rarely see those nowadays. At least on YA books.
    I really don’t like how Mehmed’s introduction seems to destroy all the awesomeness that is this story… If you’re going to have a fierce, badass MC, at least give her a fierce and badass love interest who will treat her as an equal. With respect and companionship above all. Ugh.
    I have this on my TBR and have been wanting to try it for forever now. I really need to get to it and see for myself.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! 😀 I agree, anti-heroes/heroines seem to be a bit hard to come by nowadays. Hope to see more of them now that Deadpool is so popular haha.
      And yeah, Mehmed was not very strong. He really doused Lada’s fire, in my opinion. I hope he becomes a much better friend (or enemy) to Lada in the next book. His character needs a good dose of badassness,
      If you do manage to pick it up sometime, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I so hope you’re right, because they’re awesome!
        Oh I hate that. I hate it, hate it, hate it. Why would an author even do that? Makes no sense to me. It’s so hard to get an epic female MC nowadays, and you just go and ruin her because of a guy… Uh uh, not cool, man.
        Thank you, Azia! ^^

        Liked by 1 person

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