And I Darken: Review
Guys. Guys. Guys. This may have been one of my favorite 2017 reads so far. And I Darken, by Kiersten White, is not fantasy in the typical sense, but I wouldn't blame you for thinking so based on the cover. It's beautiful, and what drew me to pick up the book in the first place, and it blew my expectations out of the water.
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.
And I Darken is more in the vein of historical fiction, though it takes some liberties with the history part, which is why I think it's generally labeled as fantasy. It follows the story of two young children who are ripped away from their land and sold to the Ottoman Empire as hostages. These two children are the quiet and fearful Radu, and the strong-willed daughter of the dragon, Lada. We watch them grow up in the heart of the Ottoman Empire, find solace in Islam, and strengthen their hearts.
I've only discovered this recently, but I actually like stories told from a child's perspective. I never thought I would relate to a child's storytelling voice (and I'm not sure what it says of me that I do!). We switch between Radu and Lada, and they are innocent, raw, and naive in the way only a child can be. They are, of course, forced to grow up quickly in the midst of enemy territory. Lada is not a beautiful, elegant princess (well, she may be beautiful, but she never describes herself as such), but rather a warrior who wishes she could be a man instead of a woman. The way she matures into womanhood was especially interesting and real, and I just want to root for her, despite her cold demeanor and wild ways. We follow them through puberty, and those changes are described without any filter. I found that really refreshing. It's a confusing time for young adults, and the experiences these two siblings go through are so raw.
The book is well-paced. There's a decent amount of action where it matters, funny banter where it's needed, and a slew of interesting characters. I love the undertones of religion and politics and history in this YA book. There's a specific moment in the book where I was just wracked with emotion as an individual begins to understand that his/her very being clashes with his/her faith and and the trust placed in his/her family and friends (I'm trying to avoid spoilers here!). There's something here about religion and self-actualization that White is trying to get at, and I think she does it in a moving way that makes the reader consider what we know about Islam and the Ottomans, and what we truly don't understand.
It's a bit darker than your normal YA fantasy read, but I can't recommend And I Darken enough, because of the perspective it brings to the genre. I'm really excited for the next installment in The Conqueror's Saga, Now I Rise, coming out on June 27th, 2017!
I rate And I Darken 5/5 stars!