Title: AND I DARKEN
Author: Kiersten White
Publisher: Delacorte Press
TW/CW: Blood, death, gore, attempted rape, child abuse, mental and physical abuse, warring religions
FROM GOODREADS: 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.
I spent so long thinking I wouldn’t like this book and kept putting it off… only to discover that I freaking love this book. Well, I love Lada. Mean, brutal, vengeful, cunning Lada who bites men in the face and kills would-be rapists. Honestly, she’s the feminist hero we all deserve.
AND I DARKEN is a truly complicated story. There’s political intrigue, warring countries, traded children, and a tinge of romance. But at the center of it all is Lada, Radu, and Mehmed, three children who were forced to grow up when they were thrust into roles that they were not ready for.
As I already said (and screamed about on twitter), I love Lada. I think she’s the perfect mix of terrible and amazing, and she has probably the best character development in the story. She goes from thinking women (especially women in the harem) are weak to realizing how power comes in many forms, and that the dainty women she used to scoff at are just as capable of owning the world as she is. Literally girl power, y’all. And Lada realizes all of this AND STILL DOESN’T CHANGE HER MIND ABOUT MARRIAGE AND GIVING BIRTH. It’s amazing! Lada is more comfortable around men and fighting but by the end of the book, she has learned to appreciate other women who don’t choose the same path as her and that’s the character development I am always here for.
Both of the male characters, Radu and Mehmed, I was kind of ‘meh’ about. Mehmed has lofty pursuits and goals, which I admire, but I couldn’t quite get passed his casual misogyny and treatment of the impoverished. Radu… don’t get me started. Everyone kept saying I would love Radu but he was my least favorite of the trio, something that never happens with a Queer character. I wanted to believe in the “he’s a soft Queer baby!!” but while I could appreciate Lada’s manipulation (to get home, to save Radu and Mehmed’s lives), Radu’s took a really disturbing turn for me. I understand heartbreak and longing but some of Radu’s actions were abusive and he was trying to manipulate someone into loving him in a way that they didn’t appear to want to love him in. It left me with an unsettled feeling.
This was definitely the book I needed, though. While I dearly respect highly femme kickass women in books, I will always have a place in my heart (and on my bookshelf) for girls who don’t know how to tame their hair or flirt. Lada is ferocious, hard, and wants to burn the world down in order to get home… and I love her. I love her so much.
Besides Lada herself, I loved her little army. Nicolae was such an unlikely friend but their interactions were perfect and made me laugh. Nicolae is the brother Lada deserves.
I’m not normally a huge fan of historical novels, especially ones based off of real people, but I was intrigued by the idea of a female Vlad the Impaler. White does a great job of mixing fact and fiction by filling in the missing gaps in their history, and she writes about Lada’s longing for her home country so well that I was cheering Lada on the whole time. Get your home country, girl!
I highly recommend this one for anyone who loves mean girls, assassins, and unlikely friendships.