Author: Kiersten White
Series: The Conqueror’s Saga
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Publish Date: June 28th, 2016
Genres: Historical Fiction, Young Adult
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, who’s expected to rule a nation, 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.
I immediately fell in love with And I Darken‘s premise upon reading the book summary and gave very little prior thought to my instinctive decision to order a copy. Which clearly wasn’t feeding my impulsive, entirely uncurbed and mildly out of hand book purchasing habits…
Poorly researched and contemplated decisions aside, there are too few works centered upon Vlad the Impaler, let alone retellings which adapt his persona into a kick-ass, female protagonist. I have an entirely unfounded and likely unhealthy obsession with literary twists on historical figures, particularly Vlad the Impaler. Needless to say, I was instantly intrigued and found myself hooked after the first page.
My love of historical fiction and the origin of Count Dracula’s gruesome tale compounded with the overall hype about this series may have ultimately backfired, encouraging me to set extremely high, albeit realistic expectations for this novel. And yes, I do have a knack for setting utterly absurd and entirely impractical expectations when it comes to literature, but I don’t believe this was the case when I embarked upon And I Darken. Based upon the plethora of glowing reviews that have been circulating throughout the blogging community for the past year, I was looking forward to an action-packed, blood-filled adventure adorned with beheadings, stabbings, and warfare with a potential side of torture. These hopes were quickly shattered…about 30% of the way through the novel, to be exact.
While the writing itself was phenomenal, the plot left something to be desired – in simplest terms, it was incredibly dry. I’m usually a huge proponent of political intrigue and historical references in literature, but not at the expense of the plot. Unfortunately, the complex political hierarchy and relationships within the novel were such a central focus that they detracted from the overall plot and character development. Personally, I prefer well-developed, plot driven works which have adopted a decent balance between heart pounding, action-laden scenes and more sentimental, emotionally draining encounters. Upon reading chapter after chapter about alliances, seemingly ceaseless and overly drawn out warfare, and insecure rulers who perceived minute details as a threat to their personal sovereignty, I became less enthralled with And I Darken by the page and began questioning the countless ranting and raving reviews across which I had previously stumbled.
Furthermore, the novel skipped large periods of time with baffling and unnecessary frequency, leading to a choppy, disjointed narration that always managed to leave me bewildered and trailing a few steps behind. The plot wouldn’t glance over a few days or weeks – months or years would transpire with a vague, nondescript mention. Perhaps smoother transitions and fewer overall temporal leaps would have resulted in a more fluid read.
One of the novel’s strongest qualities was the savage, kick-ass heroine with a feisty temper and a knack for murdering others, not to mention her status as the female equivalent of Vlad the Impaler. I appreciated Lada’s cruel and emotionless impassivity, which was unexpectedly refreshing and provided an interesting perspective on unfolding events. I admired her fierce, unrelenting determination in an age when females were expected to fulfill the role of a docile, subservient house wife. Her independence and refusal to conform to societal expectations highlights the novel’s unique characteristics, particularly with respect to the young adult genre.
Similarly, I also enjoyed Radu’s character, which severely offset Lada’s and provided for an interesting dynamic between the two. While Radu’s weak, docile personality and spineless interactions with others served as a source of both pity and frustration, his character was beautifully realistic and innocent.
While romance was not the novel’s primary focus, a peculiar love triangle arose that I admired for its originality but strongly disliked on account of its execution (as well as its occasional evolution into a peculiarly-shaped quadrilateral that never should have seen the light of day). These relationships were not well incorporated into the plot – romance would serve as the highlight of three or four chapters before completely disappearing for the next 70 pages. I would have preferred a more seamless transition between the dense political scenes and these emotional encounters.
All in all, And I Darken reminded me of a watered down Game of Thrones wannabe that was severely lacking in character development, heart-wrenchingly unexpected betrayals, backstabbing, and gruesome, bloody scenes (additional stabbings/beheadings/bodily injuries would have been greatly appreciated – in the least sadistic manner possible). I readily found myself drowning in unwanted historical references and painfully lengthy discussions of political maneuvers. Frustratingly, many of these references were mentioned once and never referred to again, leading me to question their original purpose. Unfortunately, there were far too many yawns and unplanned naps invoked, leading to a less than desirable reading experience.
Despite my love-hate relationship with And I Darken, I plan to finish the trilogy primarily out of curiosity and a small glimmer of hope that redemption is possible. While I’m not overly optimistic about the final two installments, I’ll be going into them as open-minded as possible and crossing my fingers for a slightly better outcome.
Fun fact: my laptop’s autocorrect has decided to rewrite history, and I would now like to introduce you to Vlad the Inhaler. You’re welcome.
|Plot & Premise|