I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Written by Kiersten White
Published June, 2016 by Delacorte
Provided by: Netgalley
Purchase: The Book Depository | Bookworld | Booktopia
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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.
You know what? And I Darken just wasn’t the book for me. Despite the rave reviews I’m seeing everywhere as its release grows imminent, I just can’t manage to make myself like this one. A slow, uninteresting plot bogged down with endless political jargon and supported by a string of unlikeable characters made this particular Kiersten White book my least favourite of hers to date.
“Lada carried the phrase back to the fortress on her tongue, rolling it around. Borders and agression, sieges and sickness. Dealers of death.”
For some reason I had a very different imagining of what And I Darken was going to be like. I was picturing a ruthless princess amidst battlefields, bowing to no man and claiming her birthright. What I actually got was a brutal, unlikeable girl who had a lot of fire but was never able to use it.
Let me say, first of all, that there is NOT A SHRED of fantasy within this book. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing (in fact, I love that there’s no fantasy – we need more straight historical YA) but a lot of people have gotten the wrong idea about this one for some reason.
You could also be forgiven for thinking that this book is all about Lada, our ‘heroine’. That’s not true. Her brother, Radu, takes up pretty much just as much page time as Lada does – making this a dual POV book, which I for one wasn’t expecting. Dual POV’s can be good and bad – the main benefit being that if you don’t like one character, you can soon switch to the other. No such luck for me with And I Darken, as Radu was just as unlikeable as Lada. Where his sister was uncaring and cruel, Radu was constantly mired in self-pity and doubt.
“As the baby latched on with surprising fierceness, the nurse offered her own prayer.
Let her be strong. Let her be sly. And let her be ugly.”
The siblings are unloved and traded to the Ottoman Empire by their father, in means of keeping peace. Away from everything they’ve ever known, both Lada and Radu have very different ways of coping. Lada throws herself into training and trying to become stronger, while Radu finds religion and a love for God with Islam. Along with this, they meet Mehmed, the Sultan’s son, who becomes a sort of ‘adopted brother’ to the two and a constant companion.
A good chunk (and I mean almost half) of this book is spent with Lada and Radu as children. I was disappointed, as I hadn’t exactly signed up for ten and eleven-year-old characters. Sure, it was interesting to see how ingrained this new culture became and how their ‘home’ had never really been their home. However, nothing was done with them as children that I felt couldn’t have been done with them as teenagers.
Probably the most excruciating thing about this book for me was Mehmed. For some reason (one I am still trying to fathom) both Radu and Lada are utterly besotted by him. Though Lada has been torn away from a country she so fiercely wants to get back to, her passion for Wallachia becomes an afterthought as all her fire is now spent on garnering Mehmed’s affections.
It was slightly easier to deal with when they were children; but as Lada and Radu grow up, it becomes downright painful. Worse yet, Mehmed never does anything to warrant such fierce love on all sides. Yes, he’s their only friend and has, to an extent, kept them safe – but I never once saw anything done by him that warranted such all-consuming passion from Lada and Radu. Mehmed is weak and constantly in need of the siblings to save him – politically and physically. Selfish and constantly lying to them, he sometimes never even sets eyes on them for months at a time.
sister was uncaring and cruel, Radu was constantly mired in self-pity and doubt.
“So the question becomes, Daughter of the Dragon, what will you sacrifice? What will you let be taken away so that you, too, can have power?”
Radu’s love for Mehmed was something different than Lada’s. Unable to come to terms with his sexuality and still afraid of what his feelings for Mehmed might mean, Radu suffers in silence and instead devotes his life to serving Mehmed however he can, if not romantically. Radu’s life is steeped in both love for his Sultan (when Mehmed is on the throne) and love for his religion. Having been ignored and sidelined by everyone closest to him his entire life, it was with a twinge that I could slightly understand his obsession with Mehmed.
Lada, on the other hand, I couldn’t forgive. She even goes as far to say (near the end) that there would never be no man more powerful or deserving of her love than Mehmed. Um, hello? This same man would have no power if not for Lada and Radu, has lied to Lada about his activities in the harem (how many surprise sons does he have now, but still he loves you!) and has even compared women to the mere footstool he rests his feet upon. Ugh! Mehmed was just such a hypocrite, and although that might have been accurate for the time period in which this was set, I wanted Lada to rise above that and understand that she deserved more.
“The last time she was up here, she had been… staring up at the sky and dreaming of stars. Now, she looked down and plotted flames.”
Despite promising us a fierce heroine, Lada never once sees a battlefield and instead plays at war rather than takes part in it. She kills a few people, but it’s always in defense of her own life of Radu’s. She has the skills to be a really fantastic warrior, but we never get to see her shine. As this one is the first in a series, I can see that might change with future instalments.
It’s with disappointment that I give this one such a low rating. The plot was incredibly slow, too. It spans years, yet never manages to have a pace which feels comfortable. So much happens, but nothing happens. Thrones are trades, treaties are signed, attempts are made on Mehmed’s life… what’s it all for? Do I even care at the end of the day?
Though Radu sort of came into his own by the end of it, becoming almost likeable, the same couldn’t be said for Lada. I had wanted a feisty heroine who got things done in a time where it would have been impossible. Instead I got a vicious young girl who understood war, but never fought – who was a prisoner by the deeds of others, then by choice. And Mehmed? Well, I could rant all day about him.
And I Darken is a hit for a lot of people, but sadly I can’t count myself amongst them. I think it’s safe to say that I won’t be continuing this series.