I was surprised to find that the story had two main characters, Lada and her younger brother Radu. The story is told from their alternating points of view from childhood up to early adulthood. The siblings are sent from their homeland as hostages to the sultan to ensure their father’s loyalty. The story follows the siblings through their journey of self discovery as their fates become entangled with Mehmed II, the virtuous son of the sultan with dreams of conquest.
Lada is fierce even from a young age, a vicious child that is often described as being ugly. She is abrasive and domineering with an intense hunger to claim and rule over what she views as hers. She is frustrated by the limitations placed on her for being a woman, craving power and freedom given to her brother for the simple fact that he is a man. Lada wrestles with her femininity, at some times rejecting it entirely and at other times trying to accept herself and her needs as a woman. She idolizes her father and later the janissaries, wanting desperately to be recognized and accepted. Lada seeks to return home to her mother Wallachia, her birthright.
In stark contrast to Lada, Radu is sensitive and beautiful. As a child he cried easily and like his sister he also desperately sought affection and acceptance from others; beginning with their father, their nursemaid, Lada, and eventually Mehmed. While Lada seeks power through brute strength Radu finds a means to his ends through manipulation, using his attractiveness to gain the respect and trust of the people around him. Radu finds his home in Islam and the empire under the watchful eye of the father, both God and the Sultan.
“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?”
The parallels between Lada and Radu are a subversion of the classical gendered stereotypes placed on men and women. The bonds between Lada, Radu, and Mehmed were incredibly complex and toxic for all involved. The book doesn’t shy away at all from the hideous aspects of love and jealousy and gives an honest and intimate portrayal of the characters as they stumble into adulthood.
This book is loosely based on three very real historical figures: Vlad the Impaler, Radu the Fair, and Mehmed II. Despite this, the book is in no way to be viewed as historically factual, as noted by the author. Lada’s gender change aside, there are definitely many pieces of history that are changed deliberately to make room for both a new romance but also for a more neutral portrayal of the main character. This is definitely a medieval fantasy and alternate history book which I’m quite frankly fine with and was able to enjoy just the same. The setting and characters were fairly convincing for the time period and I appreciated the research and detail that was put into the book to make it at least believable.
I expected a little more war and battle in this book but there was actually next to none. There was much more focus on the political aspects of the story which I think was alright considering the ages of the main characters. I do expect to see more combat in the next book though, so maybe Lada will actually be the brutal warrior princess she was destined to be.
Despite my mild complaints about the historical aspects of this book I thoroughly enjoyed myself reading it. I was initially intimidated by the page count for this book but found myself flying through the pages. And I Darken is masterfully written and really polished compared to a lot of YA literature. Definitely one of my favorites and I am absolutely ecstatic to continue the series.
Title: And I Darken
Series: The Conqueror’s Saga #1
Author: Kiersten White
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Publication Date: June 28, 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.
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, who’s expected to rule a nation, 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.