Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Review: And I Darken

Title: And I Darken
Author: Kiersten White
Series: The Conquerers Saga
Volume: 1
Release Date: June 28, 2016

Lada Dragwyla is heir to Wallachia- or she would be, had she not been born a girl. After years of striving for her father's respect and affection, he abandons her and her brother, Rabu, to the role of hostages for the Ottoman empire. Lada is determined to return to her home and claim what should be her inheritance, while Rabu just wants somewhere he can feel safe. They rapidly find themselves pulled into the dangerous politics of the Ottoman empire, when they, against all odds, find themselves befriending the son of the Sultan.

Out of Ten: 8/10

Review at a Glance: A character-driven and fascinating alternative history with a female Vlad the Impaler.

Review: This was #YAReadAlong's book this month. I'd actually tried to pick it up once before, but I just didn't end up getting into it. I'm really glad that I gave it another try though, because I ended up really enjoying it. There are so many fascinating things about the story.

I don't typically go for books with unlikable main characters... and Lada is arguably an unlikable character in the extreme. She's aggressive, combative, and often cruel- except that watching her struggle to live her life on her terms meant she became a character that I was really invested in, despite her terribleness. I wouldn't say I supported all of her choices, but I definitely understood them. She's constantly in situations where she has to fear for her life, and covers that terror with rage so well that sometime she doesn't even realise what it is.

She and her brother Rabu have a fascinatingly fraught relationship. They both function as more or less the sole constant presence in each other's lives- but both are constantly growing and shifting, changing into people that conflict with each other on some very basic levels. They're mirrors of one another in a lot of ways- Lada has little use for religion; while Rabu beings to find himself when he finds Islam, Lada fights with a direct approach and by making herself feared; Rabu strategies and fights by making himself loved. They're both incredibly interesting characters on their own, and their interactions were intriguing in how their differences stood out sharply. And yet, they care about each other, in their own complicated, messed-up way. It's this push and pull, with a lot of really complicated emotions.

This conflict made more clear by Mehmed, the son of the Sultan to whom the siblings were given as a hostage. He really brings out the contrasting natures of Lada and Rabu. While complicating things by being both the person in love with Lada and the person who Rabu is in love with.

There's a lot of development, both for the characters themselves and with respect to the plot. This books spans year, rather than weeks or months, though it does focus on specific periods of time within those years. So naturally, a lot happens. Readers get to watch Lada and Rabu grow from being children with very few options... to young adults who still have limited options, but are a heck of a lot better at making those work for them. We get to see them carving out places for themselves in a world that isn't at all welcoming to them.

I could write a whole blog post on Lada's relationships: with herself, with her brother, with the world at large. One of the most interesting parts of this book was her complicated relationship with femininity. She's raised in a way that gives her very little respect for women, and often rails against being one herself. She's in possession of a lot of traits that aren't coded as feminine, and lives in a world where a woman isn't always a good thing to be. It's only toward the later half of the book where she meets women that she might respect and I'm interested to see how that plays out on the next two books. Likewise, I'm really hoping to see Rabu's character (and his relationship with his sexual orientation) develop too. I'm so intrigued by all the facets of both of these characters, and I'm so excited to see what's going to happen with them next (and a little concerned, because it's a very stab-y world they live in).

Overall, this one was a pleasant surprise for me. It's strongly character driven, gritty, and intense, and I'm really looking forward to seeing how the story continues.

P.S. Nazira is fantastic. I really like the friendship between her and Rabu. Also the friendship between Lada and Nicolae. There are a lot of really wonderful and well-crafted secondary characters, did I mention that. No? Well, here I am, mentioning it in a postscript.


  1. I'm so glad to see you enjoyed this book! I loved it so much. The characters really surpassed my expectations. I can't wait to see how they develop over the rest of the series.

    1. This whole book was a pleasant surprise for me- and especially the characters! They're so multidimensional, I was really impressed.