Title: And I Darken
Author: Kiersten White
Series: The Conquerors Sags #1
Genres: Young Adult, Historical Fantasy
Format: eBook, 400 pages
Publisher: Penguin Random House Children’s
Release Date: July 7th, 2016
No one expects a princess to be brutal. And Lada Dragwyla likes it that way.
Ever since she and her brother were abandoned by their father to be raised in the Ottoman sultan’s courts, Lada has known that ruthlessness is the key to survival. For the lineage that makes her and her brother special also makes them targets.
Lada hones her skills as a warrior as she nurtures plans to wreak revenge on the empire that holds her captive. Then she and Radu meet the sultan’s son, Mehmed, and everything changes. Now Mehmed unwittingly stands between Lada and Radu as they transform from siblings to rivals, and the ties of love and loyalty that bind them together are stretched to breaking point.
The first of an epic new trilogy starring the ultimate anti-princess who does not have a gentle heart. Lada knows how to wield a sword, and she’ll stop at nothing to keep herself and her brother alive.
Kiersten White is a name I’ve often seen conjugated with praise. Her other works, specifically the Mind Games series, have been the subject of a lot of rave in the book community, from what I’ve seen. Personally, I hadn’t been introduced to White’s writing until now, despite that I’ve had a few of her books on my TBH for the longest time. When I found out that she’s writing a book about a female Vlad the Impaler, I knew it would be a high-priority book for me.
Lada is the daughter of a Wallachian prince and a ruthless warrior since birth. The only thing she wants is to make her father proud. But all of that changes when he trades her and her brother, Radu, off to the Ottoman sultan in order to maintain the peace between the two states. Enraged, Lada casts off her childhood dreams and begins plotting her revenge. Meanwhile her brother Radu has found peace in a country that he’s been taught to hate. Together they befriend Mehmed, one of the sultan’s sons, and each of them begins to question who they are and what they stand for.
As I’ve already mentioned, this book was a high-priority read for me ever since it was announced. The prospect of a female version of the historic figure that is the inspiration behind countless horror stories – the most notable and perhaps terrifying of all being Bram Stoker’s Dracula – had me biting my nails in anticipation for the longest time. Imagine the excitement when I found out I’d been lucky enough to receive an ARC. But, as all good things, that excitement came to an end. Unfortunately, the book was unable to justify all the hype.
And I Darken starts at the beginning of Lada’s story, quite literally, then it grates its way through. The pacing is painfully slow and it took me two months and three attempts to actually finish this book. In my opinion, the parts before we get to Lada and Radu’s more Mature years were completely unnecessary. They add nothing to the plot except repeat how Tough and Strong Lada is (despite being, you know, a girl) and how Sweet and Innocent Radu is (and that he gets made fun of for). Alas, it is not only the first half that trudges through mud – it’s the rest of the book too. I unfortunately found nothing quite exiting happening in this book at all.
The characters I knew would be hard to love, because we have a Ruthless Bad-Ass and her Conflicted Brother, and I was more than prepared to struggle to love them (in the very best way). Let me tell you, that struggle was Real and not for love – it was a struggle not to strangle them. Lada is nothing like I was lead to believe she’d be. Half of the time she spent complaining that her father didn’t love her, and the rest she complained that Mehmed didn’t love her. She also does some pretty stupid shit under the veil of being a Warrior, but honestly they were not convincing at all. I went into this book expecting a calculating, ruthless, fierce lady but got a brat with anger management issues instead. Her bother, on the other hand, is a mushroom. Short and soft, and showers you with the poison of a thousand complaints if you bite in. I honestly found him the most irritating thing. I’m not going to talk about the rest of the characters as I couldn’t even bring myself to care about them.
It is clear that the author has done research beforehand but, as with all American writers that try to tackle the Balkan/Slavic cultures, it’s still not enough. This book also suffers from the Masculinizing-Of-Female-Characters’-Names syndrome (Ladislav is not the feminine form of Vladislav. Not even close to it. Thanks.) There are also some inconsistencies with the male characters’ names, but I’ll leave that one out.
The one thing I cannot forgive this book for is its depiction of Bulgarians. Their presence is not a huge one, but they’re there. You can imagine how excited I got when I found out. But all of that changed when the only times the Bulgarians spoke was to offer crude and disgustingly misogynistic remarks. Once again, this country is depicted as a land of barbaric savages. In other news, water is wet. I do realize this might not have been intentional, but White could’ve made literally anyone say those things and yet she chose the Bulgarians. I’m sorry but I’m so not here for people villainizing my people.
In general, I expected to devour this book and give it as high as a five star rating, but it did not give me any chance to do so. I went into And I Darken expecting something entirely different than what was delivered to me and I’m sad to say I’m left completely unsatisfied and a bit resentful. White’s novel may be enjoyable for lovers of historical fiction and/or non-Slavic readers, but I, as both a history fan and a Balkan native, this book was sadly an utter disappointment.