Sunday, 11 December 2016

And I Darken by Kiersten White: Book Review

No one expects a princess to be brutal. And Lada Dragwyla likes it that way.

Ever since she and her brother were abandoned by their father to be raised in the Ottoman sultan’s courts, Lada has known that ruthlessness is the key to survival. For the lineage that makes her and her brother special also makes them targets.

Lada hones her skills as a warrior as she nurtures plans to wreak revenge on the empire that holds her captive. Then she and Radu meet the sultan’s son, Mehmed, and everything changes. Now Mehmed unwittingly stands between Lada and Radu as they transform from siblings to rivals, and the ties of love and loyalty that bind them together are stretched to breaking point.

The first of an epic new trilogy starring the ultimate anti-princess who does not have a gentle heart. Lada knows how to wield a sword, and she'll stop at nothing to keep herself and her brother alive.


Throughout the two decades of my life, never have I ever read such a suspenseful and thrilling historical fiction novel. And I Darken is the first I have read from Kiersten White and I am so glad that I asked for a review copy from Penguin Random House New Zealand a few months after it had released. Historical fiction has never really been a popular pick of genre for me but in truth I’ve always been fascinated by the monumental events and people from centuries ago that have inspired thousands around the world to learn from their successes and mistakes. Prior to reading this book I’d absolutely no knowledge of ‘Vlad the Impaler’, being the inspiration for the gender-swapped protagonist Lada Dragwyla, or his mark on the Middle Eastern world. Since reading the last page with utter satisfaction, I have realised how much I want to return to the world of Lada, Radu and Mehmed. The second novel of this highly anticipated trilogy has recently announced as Now I Rise, which has me writhing in a bittersweet excitement – if the And I Darken is anything to be compared with I would have to say that it might just tip both of Sarah J Maas’ Throne of Glass and A Court of Thorns and Roses series’ off the top of the ‘most exciting and compelling books’ list for many readers around the globe.

If Celaena Sardothien and Rose Hathaway made the ‘top ten of badass heroines’ list then it would be no shock to me if Lada Dragwyla could step right into first place, bearing only her wrist knives and smart tongue as weapons, without a single complaint from anyone. First of all, major props to Kiersten White for being able to write a historical fiction with a gender-swapped protagonist and at the same time weaving in an LGBT element with one of the characters. I can’t say too much about that last bit without spoiling it for everyone but I’ll tell you now that I picked up on it pretty early so it was almost blatantly obvious without having to be written in to desperately add it just because the readers want it (I’m referring to the recent outrage at Sarah J Maas’ books having the opportunity to include it but obliviously missing the chance, though this has not put me off reading her work, personally). I did not see that coming at all since it is a historical fiction but I was tremendously happy to see that come into play. I’d briefly researched the history of ‘Vlad the Impaler’ to understand the backstory a bit more and figured, from what I had found out, that Kiersten had possibly only decided to change that particular character’s sexuality in order to give the plot more of a controversial direction (considering the rules of their religion back then which still threads through to this day) and make things far more interesting. If any part of this book was written absolutely perfectly, it was how the LGBT twist was able to push the limitations of this legendary story and turn it into something unforgettable and heart wrenching! I loved it!

I’ve always been a fan of writers who go above and beyond when writing fiction by pouring their heart and soul and extensive vocabulary into their work. Kiersten’s writing stood out like beautifully written poetry, filled with various metaphors, similes, and a handful of symbolism, which helped enhance the overall effect of the ending. Much of the dialogue from characters such as Kumal, a man that Radu builds a strong bond with once they reunited three years after meeting in the Ottoman Empire, is presented with far more meaning than anything I’ve ever come across. If I were to advise you to read this book for any reason other than the plain fact that the story is fantastically captivating and heartbreaking (in an agonising but addicting way), it would be because of the words that illustrate the story with absolute detail and give it more meaning than anything you might have already read. Kiersten has definitely won me over with her retelling of the brutally blood lusting man that had once inspired Bram Stoker’s Dracula. I couldn’t be more pleased than to have read a book that has significantly inspired me to want to delve further into the various historical tales that shaped the world into what it is today. As sad as it makes me to know that war is still a very real thing happening so close to the countries that are mentioned in this novel, I hope that this book will influence many other people such as myself to learn more about these highly controversial events and make them want to do something that might help those who still live in situations like this.

✨  Things I LOVED about And I Darken!  ✨  

* Lada Dragwyla is probably the most inspiring female protagonist to symbolise the true meaning of feminism. She is introduced as a young girl who is striving to win over her father’s love and is extremely protective of her little brother, who she constantly refers to when antagonised as “her Radu”. Although throughout the novel she occasionally becomes tempted by the idea of love, she never lets it win her over to the point where she is vulnerable enough to lose something that matters the most to her. Radu is the only one she truly loves and constantly proves that she will go through hell before she would let anyone try control her by using him to do so. As much as I may have fought with my siblings at a young age, I don’t think I would have been able to let someone smack them to try and force me to obey an order. I probably would have lost it and attacked whoever had threatened my little brother or sister – Lada had reasons for her ways, though Radu may not have understood for a long time, and I respect her for doing what she had to do to survive and protect the only family that mattered to her.

* There are multiple different languages and religions used that provide a vast amount of diversity. Lada and Radu are brought up speaking Wallachian naturally but are also taught other languages such as Turkish and Hungarian, which Lada decides to use to her advantage at certain points of the story, or just to make her own point to someone else. Religions like Christianity and Islam are heavily involved throughout this novel, and though Lada finds herself particularly favouring the Christian tales, Radu seems to accept his fate more easily while being forced to live in the Ottoman Empire by converting to Islam as a way to deal with his pain through meditation and prayer.

* While nearing the end of the book, I couldn’t help but notice the fact that I’d have to wait until July 6th 2017 for Now I Rise to release – such a bittersweet but agonising wait! I was not expecting to love this book as much as the hype beckoned me to. Since being disappointed once after reading a book that had been highly revered by many readers online, I was shocked to find that I was becoming more and more entranced by this story. Now I Rise may be a long wait before its release but I will be counting down the days until then!

* Radu is the most adorable character ever and he kind of reminds me of my little brother! He is kind, caring, devoted, and loyal – who wouldn’t want a brother like that? Lada definitely finds many faults in Radu’s sweet and soft nature, however it eventually comes in handy when Lada’s brutal nature cannot win her everything she may desire later on in their lives. We practically watch Lada and Radu grow up from the time of their birth in this novel so it is easy to feel like you know them at a personal level even though it is written in third person. From the point of view of both you are able to see, feel and think through each completely different personas who are able to orchestrate war in two completely different ways – it really proves how much words and actions can damage things or make something happen one way or another. Radu eventually proves to be ‘more than meets the eye’ as he grows into a young man who can influence men of various statuses, including the sultan, Murad, who was the one to imprison them within the Ottoman Empire in the first place. It truly shows that a pretty face can be more than you think!

* Love is portrayed as a weakness to Lada and Radu, however Lada is able to discern from who is okay to love and who isn’t. It may be the fact that Lada is supposed to lack beautiful features, that she is a female, or the that her father traded her and Radu to the Ottoman Empire to keep his claim on the Wallachian throne. Either way her portrayal of love hasn’t ever had a very positive effect on her ability to function without feeling like she would rather sink a knife into everyone’s throats instead of having to talk her way out of trouble. This is what Radu is brilliant at – being able to sway someone’s opinion of something or influence someone enough so that he is invited to important events with important people where he uses to his advantage by eavesdropping to find out important information that he can use against someone or to his benefit. Everyone loves Radu because he is charismatic and beautiful to look at, but he is unable to prevent his emotions from controlling his judgement like Lada is more so skilled at.

I’ve decided that there is literally nothing about this book that could have earned it anything less than 5 stars. I am still reeling over the ending and what will be coming next so I cannot stress enough how much I would recommend this to ANYONE looking for a gripping, intelligent, bloody, and eventful read. Even if you can’t afford to buy a brand new copy, there is always the library or your local second-hand bookstore!

Thank you Penguin Random House for the review copy!

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