Book Review: And I Darken by Kiersten White

And I Darken by Kiersten White cover

And I Darken
by Kiersten White
Goodreads | Amazon
Series: (The Conqueror's Saga #1)
Published: July 7th 2016
Rating: Genius concept

"So the question becomes, Daughter of the Dragon, what will you sacrifice? What will you let be taken away so that you, too, can have power?"

Gender-swapped Vlad the Impaler. Do you need to know more? And  I Darken is the story of Lada, a Princess of Wallachia who falls into the hands of the Ottoman Empire along with her brother. Held hostage to ensure cooperation they plan their escape to freedom.

This book was long. So long. Almost 500 pages. And you feel it.  Fast paced? Not so much. This isn't a light paranormal YA that it might first appear to be.  It is more along the lines of a dense historical, political drama. It probably took my six times longer to read it than other books of the same length because it dragged. Year pass, politics happen, and events unfold in slow motion. I thought that it was going to be incredibly gory as well.  It is a Dracula retelling.  There is violence but most of it is implied, and even the scenes of torture have a dispassionate tone that robs them of their horror.

I am a bit torn about Lada. I love that streak of vicious practicality. There are very few female characters who break things down the way that she does.  She finds her ultimate long term goal and is willing to sacrifice anything and anyone to get to it. Deliberately.  The betrayals and deaths aren't accidents that just happen to come about. She carefully plans them to meet her own ends needs. She is a bit like the proverbial wolf gnawing away at a leg to get free of a trap. The loss of the limb is painful and might cause the animal to bleed out, but all they see is the ultimate goal.

When reading a character like this, it is impossible to get away from "likability". Yes, that old foe of powerful women raises it's head yet again.  Lada is unlikable. There, I said it. I wouldn't want to be her friend, and she flirts along the edge of being an antihero. She isn't sympathetic. I don't care. Whatever she did, I found understandable, and I wanted her to succeed. I mean, I also want to get her some therapy because she is emotionally constipated, but that is just the teacher in me.

I love Radu. Radu was likable. In fact, he is so likable that Radu liking Lada in the early parts of the book is one of the few reasons for liking Lada. Radu uses this as his weapon. The ability to make other trust and love him becomes a blade in his hand.  He used it to get what he needs. Information, influence, and loyalty. In his way, he is just as ruthless and cold-blooded as Lada. For example, at the beginning of the book, he is bullied and manages to get revenge after months of planning using a servant boy who he befriends to manipulate.  It turned out well for the serving boy, but Radu still manipulates him. I  liked this because I think that often people who are soft and lovable do this unconsciously. We all use the tools we have available.

If you like historical fiction, antiheroes, and a unique setting then And I Darken should go on your TBR right this minute.

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From Goodreads:

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.