And I Darken by Kiersten White
Genre: Fantasy, Re-telling (Alternate History?), Romance
Published by: Corgi Children’s
Format: ARC e-book
Note: We received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
So far my experience of Kiersten White’s writing has been the Mind Games duology, which I enjoyed but didn’t think it did a very good job of explaining itself, but she’s a pretty prolific writer and there had been a bit of hype going around about this Vlad the Impaler-as-a-girl retelling and I admit, I got swept along with it too. And I Darken, if you didn’t already know, is the story of Lada (who I guess will grow up to become Lada the Impaler?) and her brother Radu moving from their home town to become part of the Ottoman empire. It’s a fantasy story with a strong emphasis or politics, religion and sexuality, all of which are seamlessly weaved into this bad-ass girl’s life story.
So, we start with Lada’s birth. Oh no, it’s a girl! But what her parents don’t know is that this girl is going to grow up to be one of the most feared characters. I fell in love with Lada pretty much immediately. She’s ruthless and she’s cunning, but she has this side of her that just desperately wants to please her father. You follow Lada as she grows up with a few anecdotes from when she a kid up until she’s around 11. I thought this was a genius way of getting to describe the world in continual detail without info-dumping all at once. I feel like we were constantly learning about the world around Lada, even though Lada’s character is set up pretty quickly.
What I didn’t expect was that And I Darken would focus just as much on Lada’s timid brother Radu. He’s a really important player because he’s the exact opposite of Lada (though they both have this whole people-pleaser thing going on.) But unlike Lada, Radu isn’t as attached to Wallachia and is ready to make the transition – anything to get away from their brutish father.
The childhood scenes were my favourite. 5 stars to them. Mwah mwah, magnifique. It captures childhood innocence while doing a great job at foreshadowing later complications, I was invested, okay. I was All. In. Then they move into the Ottoman empire and Mehmed’s introduced and I just – I can’t.
Mehmed changed both Lada and Radu, not necessarily for better or worse, but there was a definite shift. Particularly for Lada who’s supposed to be this killing machine but becomes pretty soft whenever this charmer’s around. Lana and Radu are completely swept away by him. Then there are a bunch of politically heavy sections, and a lot of backstory for the emperor and Mehmed’s rise to the throne. There are so many characters and trying to keep who hates who straight was pretty difficult. I won’t even try and explain this section because I’m not entirely convinced I understand it myself. I’ll definitely be needing a quick re-cap for book 2. But basically, when the siblings made it to Mehmed’s realm things slowed down considerably.
The book picks up again eventually but only at the very end. From this, I can’t wait to get my hands on the sequel Now I Rise – doesn’t that title just evoke badassery? I hope this means that Lada will regain some of her initial appeal and start fighting out again. I really wish I could give And I Darken 5 stars, because I feel it’s been a long time since I’ve started a fantasy series and really enjoyed it this much, but this book still had a long way to go before achieving perfection. Regardless, I’m excited. It means the series has room to grow, and I hope the books just keep getting better and better!