And I Darken (The Conquerors Saga #1) by Kiersten White (2016)
YA Fiction | Adult Fiction | Historical
“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.
From New York Times bestselling author Kiersten White comes the first book in a dark, sweeping new series in which heads will roll, bodies will be impaled . . . and hearts will be broken.” -Goodreads
Expected Publication Date: June 28, 2016
pooled ink Review:
Speechless. I am left surprisingly rather speechless.
This book was not at all what I had expected. But what did I expect? Something more tame, I admit. Well if you’re searching for a tame tale with a delicious bite of spice then this is not for you because this book has all the ferocity of a bated bear un-caged.
Perhaps this book was lengthy and the plot moved in a steady stubborn pace that would sooner stop the story than succumb to rushing its telling, but nevertheless the story of Lada and Radu is one that held me utterly captivated from start to finish. The world pulled me in and swallowed me as I left my 21st Century couch and found myself peering from behind pillars in 15th Century Eastern Europe.
Technically I think this book is categorized as YA Fiction but I almost want to put it in General/Adult Fiction instead. The book begins with the birth of Lada followed a few years later by Radu, flashes forwards to their childhood in Wallachia, then skips further ahead to show them becoming teens and young adults in the Ottoman Empire. So while these characters’ ages fit in with the requirements of young adult fiction, the rawness of this book feels foreign amongst its glossed companions.
This book has been compared to other YA works such as Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard and Graceling by Kristin Cashore, and while I’ve only read the former I still feel that this book lies on a different plane. Perhaps it is something about the harsh realism, the blunt politics, the open love and betrayals, or something indefinably darker within it all. It was far too easy and almost insistently common to forget the true ages of the main characters. The leading trio, Lada, Radu, and Mehmed, are but children and yet in their time and culture they are adults. Despite what other YA protagonists have been forced to deal with, their realities somehow seem far more difficult and horribly adult. Or perhaps it’s just the way this book was written.
But I have zero doubt in my mind that Lada could destroy Katniss, Mare, Tris, or any other YA protagonist with ease and twisted joy in her heart. Is that something psychotic and to be worried about? Oh definitely, but it remains true. I believe Lada would defeat them because while those other girls think of others first, Lada for the most part only thinks about herself. Perhaps she is not quite as noble for that and yet somehow despite her ferocity she always acts with good intentions (even though to most people they’d see her as a crazed tyrant born of evil). Oh, do you know who would be a good fight to pit Lada against? The Mace from The Queen of the Tearling. Yes, he’s much more her speed. And I also wonder how Celaena (from Throne of Glass) would fare?
Taking place during the time of the Ottoman Empire, but closely before the capture of Constantinople, historical truths breathe heavy through the pages. Harems, polygamy, torture, war, religion, and complicated court politics never hide nor apologize. The story does not shy away from or even pretend to apologize for its way of life for it is merely the way things were. Mehmed is Muslim and the Sultan’s heir while Lada is Christian and daughter of Wallachia. Lada protests his religion and his way of life but the book does not. I have a deep appreciation for that, oddly enough. I myself am a Christian but I can admire anyone who is true in heart to their faith. Mehmed honestly believes in Islam and the Prophet and does not apologize for his way of life for to him, and according to his beliefs, it is a right way of life. In fact it is his deep faith that makes his alliance with Lada most surprising.
Lada is a monster of a girl. She is a rabid dog that refuses to be put down. Instead of being punished for her very non-Ottoman-conforming behavior (females are meant to be seen and not heard; often married off to whomever because men claim the right) Mehmed finds it refreshing and honest. Somehow he sees this terror of a child and finds something to be loved, befriended, and protected. Not for one moment does he even fleetingly think he can change her. She is fearless and brutal but that is simply Lada. That does not mean he doesn’t possess a healthy dose of fear of her (only an idiot would not fear Lada) but he has grown to see her more as a comrade…a very close and cherished comrade.
Yes, yes, the plot was interesting if you enjoy reading about history, politics, assassinations, war, and the like. Luckily I do so perhaps that is why I am scoring this book higher than someone who does not. But really what kept me going through this book was surprisingly not so much the plot as it was the characters. White has written such realistically complex people into her book that I couldn’t help but feel enraptured by their plight. Radu was nothing and suddenly he has found a place and a person who sees him as something. Lada remains pure fire and hatred despite the soft inclinations of her heart. Mehmed was an unimportant child but has grown to become a strong leader.
Lada is like a mountain. She will not be moved and she will bow down to no one. She is ruled entirely by herself. Indeed she bestows significance upon her little brother, Radu, and her dear Mehmed, but she will allow them only so much influence over her decisions. At the end of the moment Lada will always choose Lada…and Wallachia. She has fierce nationalism in her heart for Wallachia and throughout it all her country’s freedom remains her ultimate goal. If she must sacrifice Mehmed then she will. If she must sacrifice Radu then she will. Lada will be controlled by none other than herself. If God refuses to be her ally then she will sacrifice Him too. Her brutality, however, becomes unsurprising when one finds out that she is inspired by Vlad the Impaler (Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia). In fact it is this precise source of inspiration that makes her character impossibly more intriguing (and it was also a strong factor that led me to requesting this book).
I found Lada quite captivating in her own terrifying way. She was a demon of a child and while she learned to control some of that blood-thirst as she grew older she by no means lost any of it. Although thankfully White kept Lada human by scooping out a small stronghold in her heart to contain love, loyalty, and duty – she always protected her brother, she loves Mehmed, and despite her ferocity she is not cruel and does not take genuine pleasure in killing although she does not hesitate to do so. She didn’t hate dresses but she preferred pants and daggers, she didn’t hate the idea of friends but she preferred sparring with soldiers, she didn’t hate falling in love and being kissed but she preferred maintaining complete control over her body. Lada’s greatest fear is weakness and in her time period simply being female was indeed a weakness, and so she did everything within her power to overcome it without once wishing she was ever a man. I watched with unblinking eyes as Lada strode through the world carving herself out a life of power and strength. Was she ruthless? Oh yes indeed, but she won. It didn’t matter how so long as she won.
Lada and Radu are complete opposing ends of the spectrum. Lada is vicious, defiant, quick, stubborn, hateful, unwavering, and strong while her brother Radu is soft, beautiful, appeasing, quiet, subservient, tender, joyful, sweet, submissive, and weak. She is a fighter while he is a lover – Lada is a raging fire while Radu is the silent shadow. Both have strengths and weaknesses, and if only they would figure out a way to work in tandem they could have conquered the world from the beginning. For despite Lada’s confidence she does not always know or do what is best, just as despite Radu’s general meekness he is far from stupid. It takes almost half the book for him to get there but at last Radu realizes his gift of innocence and charm can be something more than a shield and he begins to strategize in order to become far more useful to Mehmed.
Lada is mean, it is true, but she wouldn’t have to muscle her way through life if society didn’t already have such a skewed view on gender roles. Radu, likewise, wouldn’t have to be so ashamed or afraid if he wasn’t also subjected to the world’s imposed gender roles. Why can’t a girl be strong and a boy be gentle? Why not? Who says no?
Radu has his own intriguing journey through life. While Lada continues to fight, Radu finds an easier path seeking only a place of appreciation and peace. Radu makes friends, establishes powerful connections, converts to Islam, but falls in love with someone who will never and can never return it. As Radu once mourned: Lada has no love to give while Radu has love that cannot be returned. The siblings have an extremely rocky and ever-changing relationship and yet through it all something deep inside of them puts family above all when it truly counts.
The story remains in third-person POV throughout and yet the narration shifts subtly between chapters to skew the focus from Lada’s eyes to Radu’s. However there is a third character that remains just as pivotal as Lada and Radu despite not having his angle shared, and that person is Mehmed. We meet Mehmed as a boy crying in the garden where he is consoled by Radu and chastised by Lada and, of course, friendship ensues. His story enters Lada’s and Radu’s as an overlooked son of the Sultan but we watch as he matures and grows into a leader with a genuine shot at furthering the Ottoman Empire in greatness. His role, while secondary by a mere breath of space, is the determined loom through which the Wallachian siblings weave their story.
I look forward eagerly to the sequel to continue their stories.
Honestly I know that this book will not be a universal hit so it may or may not be your first choice and I’ve not doubt it will receive varied reviews. But for me I was left a tad breathless and I’m still trying to piece together why. But I think it indeed all comes down to the characters. They were written with such complexity, such realism, such emotion, and such ambition that I clung to them determined to follow them on their journey no matter where it led.
And I Darken is one of the fiercest stories of 2016. It bleeds a story that is both time-period accurate but simultaneously unique creating a tale utterly remarkable. Infused with realism, grime, betrayal, hatred, political webs, and cultural clashes this book pours out a novel filled with honesty, bluntness, and unbridled power plots. An ally today may easily be an enemy tomorrow. Lada is a fierce warrior and a devout daughter of her homeland. She does not bow down easily and when she does it is with plotted murder in her heart. Chase the trail of blood that follows Lada, the crowd of smiles that follow Radu, and the strings of power that follow Mehmed. And I Darken will twist your expectations with a smile before driving in the knife for the kill.
“Souls and thrones are irreconcilable.” -Lada
P.S. I now find myself pouring over the internet researching the real Vlad the Impaler and I might as well say goodbye to the world for the rest of the night because he’s fascinating. I don’t dive into history particularly often but when I do I dive deep haha (:
Purchase here: And I Darken
Meet Kiersten White!
KIERSTEN WHITE is the New York Times bestselling author of the Paranormalcy trilogy; the dark thrillers Mind Games and Perfect Lies; The Chaos of Stars; and Illusions of Fate. She also coauthored In the Shadows with Jim Di Bartolo. She lives with her family near the ocean in San Diego, which, in spite of its perfection, spurs her to dream of faraway places and even further away times.