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Review: And I Darken by Kiersten White (The Conquerors Saga #1)

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And I Darken by Kiersten White // VBC ReviewAnd I Darken (The Conquerors Saga #1)
Kiersten White
Published: Jun 28, 2016 (Delacorte)
Purchase: Book Depository or Amazon
Review Source: copy provided by publisher in exchange for an honest review

Reviewed by: Amy

Rating (out of 5): 3.5 stars

Kiersten White does a gender bending re-imagining of the early life of Vlad Dracul—yes that Vlad—with And I Darken. Here, Vlad is turned into Ladislav Dargwyla. The story deals mostly with Lada and her younger brother, Radu, being given to the Ottoman court to be raised as part of a peace treaty with their father and Wallachia.

When the pair meet the son of the sultan, Mehmed, they both begin to struggle with their wants and desires. As Radu finally feels like he has a place to call home for the first time in his life, Lada faces what it means to be a woman in a man’s world and never losing sight of what she truly wants: Wallachia.

To say that this book is just about Lada misses the mark. And I Darken equally showcases both Lada and Radu’s experiences of being left to fend for themselves behind enemy lines, so to speak, and the different ways in which they go about adapting.

The idea of gender and sexuality is a big theme throughout the story. Lada’s birth, as a girl, is an immediate disappointment for her father, and she spends the first part of her life trying to make up for the fault in her gender by learning everything a boy would: fighting, riding, weapons, etc. Then on the other side you have Radu, a healthy, beautiful boy. But he falls short in that his heart is too gentle for the more unsavory aspects of his father’s court. His sensitivity is seen as weakness, and when he’s not being bullied for it, he’s ignored completely.

Then there’s this underlying theme of love and caring. In this world, if you care for someone you make yourself vulnerable. But in those subtle almost too-quick-to-see moments within the story, you notice maybe the indifference painted on faces is not their true feelings. Lada learns quickly that she cannot show how much she cares for her brother, and Radu, being the kind-hearted soul he is, doesn’t understand this, and it causes their relationship to be full of strife. In his defense, though, Lada never explains her actions (or inactions) to her brother. I think the strained sibling relationship was the most heartbreaking thing about the story.

Aside from all the underlining themes of the book, you have a lot of courtly intrigue. With Lada and Radu’s friendship with Mehmed, they become embroiled in conspiracy. It’s an interesting triangle Kiersten White has formed here. Mehmed is the axis point around which both Lada and Radu pivot. It was difficult to get a beat on Mehmed. I felt like any true understanding of his character gets clouded by both Lada and Radu’s almost reverence of him. I never could figure if he was genuine or playing a game, but I believe that’s the point. I’ll be interested to see how things progress with the rest of the series.

While And I Darken is far from historically accurate, it does present some interesting meditations on what it means to make the most out of the hand you’re dealt. I liked seeing how both Lada and Radu would go about achieving many of the same goals just in a different manner utilizing their strengths, or what some would call their weaknesses. It’s clear that Lada in And I Darken has the potential to be everything her real-life male counterpart aspired to, and maybe more.

Sexual content: references to sex, attempted rape

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