{Review} AND I DARKEN by Kiersten White

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B O O K   T R A I L E R:

O P E N I N G   L I N E:

  VLAD DRACUL'S HEAVY BROW descended like a storm when the doctor informed him that his wife had given birth to a girl.

(pg. 1, US ARC edition)

“That is why you become a dealer of death. You feed death as many people as you can to keep it full and content so its eye stays off you.” 


What if Vlad the Impaler...was a female named Lada? Vlad the Impaler was real, and inspired stories such as Dracula. Kiersten White is creating a historical, gender-flipped world in AND I DARKEN, the first in the trilogy. Vlad the Impaler was brutal, and this series promises to be as well. It is not a hero's series, or about overcoming wrong. Instead, White explores the ideas that bring people into making horrible decisions. What brings them to that point? What makes certain atrocities okay in their eyes? In comparison to what the rest of the series is bound to contain, Ironically, despite its darkness, you could say that AND I DARKEN is softer, lighter. It revolves around childhood, around first love, around dealing with parental betrayal and experiencing death for the first time. The novel has its brutal moments, but I am certain that they are nothing in comparison to what is to come. The end of the first novel marks a turning point. Lada is not yet worthy of the name Lada the Impaler. What will bring her to her blood-thirsty moments? It's coming, oh, it's coming...

Lada Dragwlya was born in the wrong body. Her father detested her the moment he first laid eyes upon her, for she wasn't a male. She's not even pretty, so it's harder to make a good match for her...not that Lada wants to ever be married. She wants to control her own destiny, and would rather rip out the tongue of her husband and be both husband and wife than ever be subjected to his whims. Lada has a fierce, wild personality very seldom seen in girls, one that her father appreciates. He often wishes she were born male so she could be someone he could be proud of....and Lada wants nothing more than to please her father and gain his love, so she becomes the way she thinks he wishes her to be. They're both disappointed when Radu is born. He's male, but he's weak. He cries a lot and doesn't stand up for himself. He's also beautiful, and able to beguile others with his face alone. 

When their father runs into political danger, he must pass Lada and Radu off to the Ottoman Empire to be held as political prisoners so that he'll keep his promises to the Empire. The siblings finish growing up alongside Mehmed, third in line for the throne, but destined to become Mehmed the Conquerer. Radu feels at home in the Ottoman Empire, while Lada longs to return home to Wallachia. Both find themselves falling for Mehmed, both knowing it can never work out the way they want, for Radu is himself male and still coming to terms with his emotions and wishes, while Lada wants no husband, especially not one destined to be her country's enemy. 

White plays with so many sibling themes that aren't often explored in YA. Both siblings have reason to be jealous of one another in very different ways. Radu has grown up envying Lada, while she has frequently looked down upon him, but she is also jealous of him in her own way. Both siblings seek to protect one another, Radu through pretty words and grand plans, and Lada through being physically stronger, a bodyguard, in a way. The siblings resent one another, yet they also love each other. Lada even tells Radu, "Everyone dies sometime. And I will not let Mircea kill you. If anyone is going to kill you, it will be me. Understand?" (Page 59, ARC edition) Love and hate, so closely intertwined. Their experiences with Mehmed just add to the mess, and twist everything up into a convoluted knot that won't be untangled anytime soon.

While AND I DARKEN has been compared to fantasy novels such as Game of Thrones, it's not a fantasy, so don't go into the series expecting it to be one. It is historical, but also breaks away from history due to the gender-swap. Lada breaks the mold in every possible way, and isn't afraid to be herself. She doesn't want to be female, but slowly learns how to use her gender to her advantage, while still wishing she were male so she could be taken more seriously. She has a strong sense of self and knows what she does--and doesn't--want in life. It is easy to see how someone with such strong ideals and wishes could someday become a force to be reckoned with. As she moves out of childhood and grows up, the remaining two books in the series will follow her down a darker, bloodier path. It will be interesting to see how she continues to interact with Mehmed and Radu as the three grow up and embrace their very different destinies, especially since their lives and emotions have been so firmly mixed together up until now.

Content Ratings: highlight between ( ) for details

Romance: PG15 ( kissing; heavy making out and innuendo that more has happened; innuendo that one character visits a brothel and has sired children. )
Language: PG13 (Sexual innuendo/quips; and violent language )
Violence: PG13+ ( A couple of scenes where punishment involves impaling on stakes; bullying; battle violence )
Other:  --
C O V E R   D E S I G N:

So pretty!!!!!

The title is embossed--and shiny, too! And that sphere!!!

When you take off the book's jacket and peek beneath:

The interior is silver!!!

Every chapter has both flowers and spheres as well:

It's both pretty and violent, just like this book. It represents a loss of innocence, the threat of violence, as that sphere impales that flower, and the interior reminds you of that duality. Great designwork!!!

O F F I C I A L   I N F O:

Author: Kiersten White
Release Date: June 28, 2016
Publisher: Delacorte Press / Random House
Received: For Review

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.