Wednesday, July 26, 2017

And I Darken by Kristen White

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.

Rating:  3,5 Stars

“A dragon did not crawl on its belly in front of its enemies, begging for their help. A dragon did not vow to rid the world of infidels, and then invite them into its home. A dragon did not flee its land in the middle of the night like a criminal.

A dragon burned everything around herself until it was purified in ash.”

And I Darken is not what I would call a typical Young Adult book, at least character wise. 
I myself am a huge character-oriented person, that is I focus on the characters and their stories and if I can’t find them interesting (bear in mind that interesting is not the same as likeable to me) then the book is pretty much lost and won’t grab my attention. For me, characters are the ones who make the stories and I loved And I Darken because its characters, and the relationships between them were so twisted and complex that I enjoyed almost every second of it. However this is not a perfect book, there were times when I wanted to stop reading, when I grew bored and annoyed and there were certain aspects of it that can be quite problematic, so I’ll talk about it more in-depth.

The Story:

And I Darken is a retelling of the historical figure Vlad the Impaler but as a girl. We see her grow up as a vicious child in love with her homeland Wallachia, side by side with her best and only friend Bogdan as well as her complicated relationship with her younger brother, Radu. We see her admiration for her father until he betrays her and Radu, leaving them as bargaining chips in the hands of the Ottoman empire.

It’s in this empire where most of the story happens. Lada grows up bitter and resenting everything around, wishing for nothing more than being back in her home Wallachia. Radu, always being beaten and ignored by his family grows to be an influential and charismatic man favored by the Sultan himself.

The book is mostly about the growing up, their sibling relationship and their friendship and love for Mehmed, the Sultan’s third son in line for the throne.

The story can grow boring sometimes, and for me what really killed it was the love story. It wasn’t terrible per se, but without it the book would have been much better and this comes from someone who always wants a bit of romance in her books to keep me entertained.

The Characters:

This is where the book excels at, the characters, their friendships and betrayals are what make this story worth reading.

Lada: She is the main character and daughter of Vlad Dracul, the military governor of Transylvania and vavoide of Wallachia. She grew up seeking her father’s approval, always trying to compensate for being born a girl which made her father think less of her, despite Lada seeing nothing wrong with it. 
When her best friend is sold as a Janissary and her father, after breaking an oath to the Ottoman empire (previously breaking another Oath to the Pope when he swore to get rid of infidels) he leaves Lada and Radu to be held as ransom should he misbehave. Knowing full-well that her father will most likely break his promise once again and have them killed, Lada feels betrayed and swears to forget him, looking for a way to return to Wallachia safely with Radu.

Lada is not the sweetest main character, I can tell you that. If you have read another review by me, you’ll probably know that I’m always complaining about characters being assholes, so why you must be wondering, did I like Lada? Well, because she was the most fantastic asshole here. I hate it when a book tells you over and over how “good” someone is, how nice and perfect and worthy a character is when the narration tells you the exact opposite. Lada’s ruthlessness was not sugar-coated, she was brutal, vicious and no excuses were giving for it.

“If you are too weak to stand being hit and too stupid to avoid it, then you deserve more pain.”

Lada is someone who wants to be her own person, she wants to have power on her own and not to be tied to anyone. As the novel progresses, Lada sees how different women handle situations and how they react to power.
In the harem she’ll meet Halima, a happy and beautiful girl that is thrilled to be the Sultan’s wife. Lada is struck between wanting to hate her for being a happy slave and wishing her to be happy in her ignorance and contentment. Another wife is Mara, who Lada can relate more to. Mara is the daughter of the Serbian King, and her sacrifice in becoming the Sultan’s wife let her Kingdom be safe from the Ottoman’s attack.
Mara and Lada’s conversations were fascinating, and I really wished we had seen more of that. Lada is convinced that she doesn’t want to be just a bargain chip to keep her Wallachia safe, she wants to have power to protect it without sacrificing herself. But Mara makes a good argument, in a game of power you always have to sacrifice something and she suggest Lada makes her peace with that.

Despite how interesting I found Lada, I have to admit that borderline admiration I felt towards her and her determination diminished when the romance with Mehmed began. 
On the one hand, I can’t exactly fault her for wanting to be happy, to find something to keep despair at bay. But I just hated how petty and jealous she became of the women in Mehmed’s harem. 

Perhaps I had wanted to read more in Lada than what she really was, but through the first half of the book she was looking forward to getting to know women, maybe even befriend them (though after Bogdan she was squeamish about having other friends). When she met Halmia and Mara she tried to make them aware of their position as powerless slaves because she thought it would help them and they could regain the freedom they wanted, realizing later that what she wants and what other people desire are not the same thing.
But still, she tried. And it made me angry how she became towards the women she now considered her enemies.

When she saw Sitti Hatun at the head of the table-tiny and perfect, and perfectly miserable-Lada nearly laughed. Her rival was diminished, unworthy of even scorn.

I mean, Mehmed’s wife was a girl forced to marry him and after the union she had no power or respect for herself. I would have expected Lada to feel at least a bit of kindredship with the girl, since Lada hated marriage for that very same reason, because she was afraid of power being taken from her.

Lada could only understand that marriage was evil.
Sometimes she imagined a shadowy figure standing at a stone altar. She would hold up her hand, and he would take everything she ad for himself. She burned with hatred at the very idea of that man, waiting to make her crawl.

But Lada spent most of her time being jealous and petty toward these women, and I hated that.
Every time the harem business would come into play I wanted to roll my eyes at her, I thought she was better than that.

Radu: He is Lada’s younger brother, and her complete opposite. Radu is kind, sweet and utterly helpless, at least as a little boy. He was shy and fearful, and his siblings made him cry for sport, so his memories of Wallachia are not exactly fond.
As a child, Radu loved his sister more than anything but as they reach the heart of the Ottoman empire things start to change.

“..If anyone is going to kill you, it will be me. Understand?"
Radu nodded, snuggling into her shoulder. "Will you protect me?
"Until the day I kill you." She jabbed a finger into his side, where he was most ticklish, and he squealed with pained laughter.”

Lada ignores him and lets him be beaten, alone and scared Radu finds solace in the Islamic religion and soon his charismatic personality make him popular and beloved, having more power than Lada ever did in Wallachia.

Mehmed: He is Lada and Radu’s friend and love interest… and my least favorite character. I don’t know exactly how to explain what it is I disliked about him but, you know when there are two girls fighting over a guy and you think to yourself “Why are those two amazing girls fighting over that idiot?” well, that’s kind of what I felt for Mehmed.

Radu’s love for Mehmed is clearly forbidden and accentuated by the fact that Mehmed only sees him as a friend, while he loves Lada. 

I for one, wasn’t fan of the romance. I liked Lada and Radu’s relationship and their developing personalities too much to be focusing on the romance that I didn’t really cared about.

Historical Inaccuracy:

I have come across several reviews pointing out the inconsistencies in this book and the real history behind Vlad the Impaler. When it comes to retellings I never know what to say; what is right to change and what not? Kristen White clarifies in her author’s note that she has taken great liberties not only with the characters (obviously changing Vlad to Lada is the major one) but also with timelines, fights and so on. However, many reviewers have mention how certain things such as the forced conversions and many other brutalities carried by the Ottoman empire were ignored, and when we are talking not about fantasy retellings but about real history, what is okay to write about and what not?

I have zero knowledge of Rumania’s history so I won’t talk about it, but I suggest you guys check out reviews that have delved deeper into this. Some of the ones I read:

Teavious' review

Brindusa' review

Overall, And I Darken is an interesting book with fascinating characters but not perfect. I suggest you guys try it and see for yourself!

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