Lada Dragwlya has always known that being ruthless in a brutal world is the key to survival–especially for a princess whose only perceived worth is in the man she marries. Lada would much prefer to be measured by her own strength and intellect. To that end, she is determined to prove herself stronger and fiercer than any man.
Radu, Lada’s younger brother, is known for his charm and good looks. But those traits do little to counter his naivete and kind nature. As the third, and obviously weakest, son of a prince it seems easier for everyone to ignore Radu. But he knows how much can be heard once people forget he is listening. In a world that values action and might, Radu quickly learns to capitalize on his appearance and his social graces while hiding his own cunning spy-craft.
Lada is livid when she and Radu become hostages of the Ottoman Empire to ensure their father’s loyalty. She rails against the Ottomans and dreams of the day she will be able to escape and return to her beloved Wallachia to restore her homeland to its proper glory and reclaim everything she has been denied.
Radu, meanwhile, welcomes the new beginning these surroundings offer and throws himself into the Ottoman culture including their soothing religion, Islam. He hopes that with time he might finally find the safety and peace he’s craved for most of his young life.
When Lada and Radu meet Mehmed, the sultan’s lonely son, they find an unlikely ally. Radu sees a friend in Mehmed and the promise of being understood for the first time in his life while Lada recognizes her own ambition in Mehmed’s plans for his future and feels a kinship with him that she never thought possible.
In a world where power is a tenuous thing Lada, Radu, and Mehmed will have to weigh their bonds to each other against their desire for control over their own fates in And I Darken (2016) by Kiersten White.
And I Darken is the first book in White’s Conquerors trilogy which presents an alternate history imagining Vlad the Impaler as a girl. Both Radu and Mehmed are also based on real historical figures. A map, family trees, and an author’s note help to explain where fact and fiction diverge.
This book begins in 1435 with Lada’s birth and follows the formative years of her childhood and adolescence before it ends in 1451 with Lada poised, in many ways, to become the infamous Vlad the Impaler of legend.
And I Darken alternates close third person point of view between Lada and Radu. Being the kinder and gentler Dragwlya, Radu’s perspective is often a much-needed break from Lada’s vitriol-fueled outlook. Giving them equal prominence in the narrative also helps to highlight how often Lada and Radu’s distinct skills and proclivities compliment each other. This structure also, of course, positions them as obvious foils to one another.
White’s novel is well-researched and evocative–particularly as she brings the Ottoman Empire to life. Through Lada readers can see the violence and fear that the current sultan uses to maintain order. Alternately, Radu’s view of his new home shows the tranquility and comfort that can be found in a new culture and religion (Islam in this case).
Although Lada is often reckless, everything about And I Darken is thoughtful from the plotting to the characterization. The epic scope of this series starter demands a slower pace that will reward patient readers. Lada, Radu, and Mehmed’s story arcs mirror each other as they all strive in various ways (and with varied results) to achieve some level of agency and autonomy in their own lives.
And I Darken is a nuanced story about power, passion, and where the two can intersect. A sweeping and completely captivating start to a promising series. Highly recommended for readers looking for strong historical fiction/historical fantasy with a plot that plays out on a grand stage.
Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, Nemesis by Anna Banks, The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow, The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi, The Shadow Behind the Stars by Rebecca Hahn, Legacy of Kings by Eleanor Herman, A Thousand Nights by E. K. Johnston, The Diabolic by S. J. Kincaid, The Young Elites by Marie Lu, The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab, Amber & Dusk by Lyra Selene, An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir, And I Darken by Kiersten White