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Fiction Historical Fiction Young Adult

Book Review: And I Darken by Kiersten White

This is a book that I actually read last year in a buddy read, but since I am finishing the series now I think it makes sense to bring the old reviews onto the blog here!  The Conqueror Saga is generally an antihero retelling of Vlad the Impaler taking Wallachia (now Romania) back, Mehmed II’s (The Conqueror) reign as the Ottoman Sultan, and eventually the clashing of the two parties.  And I Darken starts Lada and Radu off as young kids, sent to live with the Ottomans as bargaining chips, aka hostages.  They grow up with the young heir to the Empire, Mehmed ….

Quick Facts:

  • Title: And I Darken
  • Series: The Conqueror Saga, #1
  • Author: Kiersten White
  • Publisher & Release: Delacorte Press, June 2016
  • Length: 486 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟🌟 yes!

Here is the summary from GoodReads:

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, 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.

This is everything I could ever want in historical fiction.  Right from the start, Lada is a feral and passionate child and I was sucked into the book immediately.  The short chapters made it hard to put down for a very, very long time.

The Story:  The story and plot kept moving pretty quickly throughout the book.  From Wallachia to Edirne to Constantinople, there was plenty of treachery, political intrigue, assassinations, friendships, brutality, and self actualization to keep the pages turning.

I could hardly ever put the book down as the power swung back and forth and everyone’s lives hung in the balance.

Between her father’s brutal nature and being introduced to people like The Head Gardener, who planted bodies on stakes in the Sultan’s square, the stage is set for Lada’s future.

The World: I think White does a great job with setting and world building.  Architecture, weather, language, enough geography to envision the land are all present.  So is the mood – the mood of each scene was so well permeated through the pages that I think it really sealed the world building for me.  I learned a lot about Islam and those customs as well, which was presented tastefully as a peaceful religion.

Another thing I didn’t know much about was how sultans behave, the hierarchy of the wives and harems, and warfare in that era.  I think White really blends facts into fiction well and without being boring.

The Characters: Lada is probably my favorite YA character of any series ever.  She is bent on taking back her homeland, and all other loyalties pale to that towards her Wallachia.   Watching her grow from a terroristic child to.. well.. A terroristic young woman, was a really interesting character arc.  She’s not untouchable and I really felt for her as she tried to iron out her adult feelings of happiness vs homeland, being a woman in a patriarchal society, and what she knows she deserves vs. what is offered to her.  Her military strategy and political cunning are believable and I just am rooting for her and her band of soldiers.

Radu, her brother, is terrible, neither character is meant to be liked but Radu was really truly terrible.  He was a scared, whiny child, who ends up hero worshipping Mehmed, then both siblings end up being in love with him.  Radu spent so much of the middle of the book just whining about Mehmed that I got sick of it and docked a full star.   Later Radu turns into a political worm, I mean spy, wait no I mean worm.  Lada was always terrible to him and I have a feeling she’s going to end up paying for it.

Mehmed was a spoiled brat but he eventually has to become the sultan, at age 15.  I don’t have much to say about him, he has to grow up quickly and make some tough choices once he learns how savage the world truly is.  They all do.  The side characters and political plotting, including Mehmed’s mother, are another strong point.  That woman is just savage!  Lada’s band of Janissaries have great banter too, and so does much of the dialogue.  The relationships in the book are interesting and generally complicated.

Misc: I want to gush about so many things related to these books but I can continue to do so in the next review.  I never feel like I do some of these books justice, and this is one of them.  The political intrigue and cunning is just so freaking intricate that it kept me rapt.  If Radu had been slightly less insufferable it would have been a solid 5🌟, even Lada riding off into the frozen wastes with her men can’t undo that for me

“The daughter of Wallachia wants her knife back.”

The authors note states that Vlad the Impaler as a woman makes for a more interesting story… And I totally agree.  She also points out that each of these characters is historically portrayed differently by the conquerors vs the conquered… another interesting story lens that (spoiler alert (not)) will be exploited more in the coming books.

Stay tuned for my review of Now I Rise, book two, hopefully coming tomorrow!

5 replies on “Book Review: And I Darken by Kiersten White”

I remember this one! I didn’t continue with the series after this first one. The first half was amazing for me. When the romance took over in the last half I was so bummed. I despise Mehmed! Why does everyone like him?!?! 😂

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