If you’re looking for a deadly brutal YA historical fiction retelling…And I Darken by Kiersten White is calling your name. Practically screaming it in a bloodthirsty way, let’s be honest. This book is incredible. It’s dark and accurately portrays how vicious the world was back in the 1400s. It’s also a gender-bent retelling of Vlad the Impaler! So instead of “Vlad” we have “Lada” (which is actually the feminine equivalent) who is terrifying and admirable. This book is totally the definition of EPIC.
The story follows the life of Lada. It starts off, literally, with her birth and then follows her briefly through childhood to the viciously terrifying teenager she becomes. She’s a wild girl who desperately wants the approval of her terrible father, Prince of Wallachia. Except her father ends up abandoning her to the Ottomans, as hostages basically, and she grows up estranged from her homeland and lost and alone. Except, of course, for her little brother: Radu. Radu is as thoughtful and kind and soft as Lada is tough and violent and raging. They clash like nothing else. Except they also care fiercely for each other. #siblings And they both perhaps fall in love with the young Sultan, Mehmed. Which is awkward considering Mehmed is Lada and Radu’s sworn enemy.
The story has a lot of political elements. It almost reminded me of Game of Thrones in that respect. Basically it is 90% about who is at war with who and who wants to stab and impale who (spoiler: EVERYONE WANTS TO STAB EVERYONE) and alliances and broken alliances and who gets the throne and etc. It was very interesting, although boarded on info-dumping several times. But it made me care about the characters at first, so the political and historical aspects (while a bit dry) didn’t get overly tedious.
It definitely features historical elements! Although, since it is historical fiction, some timelines have been moved and rearranged to create a faster-moving story. But I loved learning about the Ottoman culture and I didn’t know much about Vlad the Impaler before….and now I do! Huzzah!
The characters were definitely the highlight. Often I read books where the book promises dark/vicious characters…but then all the character does is sneezes on a puppy and doesn’t apologise and it’s all very anti-climatic. Not so here! Lada is downright cruel. She stabs and bites and she’s feral and wild and basically amazing. Nothing gets her down. Although as the book goes on she does mature and develop as a character. Sometimes she even talks to people before immediately smacking them in the head. #progress Radu dual-narrates and he’s equally amazing to read about. Despite being labelled the “weak” one and constantly underestimated, he’s very clever and intelligent and collects information and uses it for blackmail. These two siblings were just so contrasted and intriguing that I couldn’t put the book down!
There is a love triangle, although it’s a muted one. Considering Radu refuses to admit his feelings for Mehmed and Lada would rather stab puppies than admit her feelings for Mehmed. The romance definitely features in the plot, but it doesn’t overwhelm things.
It is quite a long book, at 500-pages. I felt it could’ve been shorter and condensed some of the intense load of politics and focused more on the characters than the world. My favourite scenes were all the conversations between the trio: Lada, Radu, and Mehmed. They were all three so awesome and complex!
And though the book is quite dark, it’s not super graphic. So if you’re squeamish, you’ll be fine! (Mostly.) Of course there is impaling and stabbing and assassination attempts and Lada kindly (not) tortures the kids she grows up with all through her childhood…oh and there’s plenty of WAR and BATTLES.
ALL IN ALL: I have such fond feelings for this book! It was intense and exciting and intriguing. The writing was engaging, although a little dry at times, and the characters were winning despite being entirely horrible to each other. I am desperate for the next instillment!