Every now and then, you read a book that’s so wonderful, you lose your rationality a bit. Rather than write a detailed, pointed review, you just want to squee and cry “BUT IT’S SO GOOD GUYS! YOU HAVE TO READ IT!”
For me, Kiersten White’s And I Darken is one of those books. But I’m going to try to keep it together in this review for the sake of my dignity and literary thinking and whatnot.
And I Darken is an unique historical fiction that gender-flips the story of Vlad The Impaler, cunning and vicious 15th century warrior and ruler. This time, Vlad is a girl named Lada, and through her we see how war, politics, romance, and games of power lead a soul that is seemingly destined for doom down a dark yet strangely triumphant path.
When Ladislav aka Lada was young, she thought her father– the ruler of Wallachia– to be the greatest man who ever lived. She worshipped him as a diligent ruler and a powerful warrior who would do whatever it took to strike fear into the hearts of men and protect his people. She thought him the ultimate protector of her motherland. Except he wasn’t really any of that. He was just another twisted ruler with a weak mind who would do anything to keep his power. After teaching her to love Wallachia deeply and defend it fiercely, he offers her the ultimate betrayal by leaving Lada and her brother, Radu, in the clutches of his precarious but more powerful ally, the Ottoman Empire.
Raised in enemy territory with their survival dependent on their father’s loyalty, Lada and Radu become fortunate friends with the Sultan’s third son, Mehmed. Still, there is no promise of safety or happiness, even in their surprisingly privileged new upbringing. Lada knows she must outwit and outfight all others to make a name for herself in a time when women are mere pawns used for lust and alliances. As the three grow older together and the world around them changes, Lada will have to decide how she’ll claim her independence in such a perilous time.
The book’s description focuses in on Lada and rightfully so. She’s a wickedly delightful main character, all fire and cleverness in a time when that certainly wasn’t allowed in women. She protects her friends and her interests with aplomb. You know she’s not necessarily a good person, but even when you disagree with her, you still root for her. However, Lada’s story is greatly enhanced by well-written companions Radu and Mehmed, both of whom she has complex and fascinating relationships with. There’s also a slew of impressive characters– men, women, LGBTQ, straight, pompous, insecure, overtly manipulative, and quietly aggressive alike– who mold the story in their own way, informing Lada’s opinions on weakness and different types of power, war, loyalty, and self-worth, among other things. They are all different in their schemes but they all believe they are justified– and you don’t really doubt any of them.
The characters are great, the history is fascinating, but what wowwed the most about this novel was the story itself. Deceptive and political without getting heavy-handed; full of romantic intrigue without declaring obvious ships or getting sappy; rebellious but with clear purpose and justifiable means, the novel walks several fine lines with ease and confidence to keep the story wild and pulse-pounding without jumping the shark. Kiersten White takes a piece of history, shakes it up, and unwinds it to reveal a tale that’s made of guts, glory, and girl power. On top of that, this seasoned author offers up beautiful descriptions, rich landscapes, and a new look at a long lost world through fresh eyes.
At nearly 500 pages, And I Darken might seem a little lengthy to some. Be assured that it will fly by! Lada’s tale is complex and no detail is left unexplored. At no point with there a plot line a sequence that I read through and thought “I probably could have done without this.” It’s all important!
This book is an epic five-star read and a killer series starter. We can’t wait to read the follow-up (and this one isn’t even out yet!)
RATING: 5 OUT OF 5 STARS
And I Darken hits shelves on June 28, 2016.