A dragon did not crawl on its belly in front of its enemies, begging for their help. A dragon did not vow to rid the world of infidels, and then invite them into its home. A dragon did not flee its land in the middle of the night like a criminal. A dragon burned everything around herself until it was purified in ash. (p 70)
I’ve never heard of Kiersten White before And I Darken. And even when I did, it happened by accident, when I saw the title mentioned on a blog. It sparked my curiosity because it mentioned Romania and Vlad the Impaler. Because it’s not a stand-alone book (this novel is part of a trilogy, The Conquerors Saga) I was one step away from not buying it, but now I’m glad that I got to read it.
We are that tree. -…- It lived where nothing had any business thriving. -…- We defy death, to grow. (p 22)
The action takes place in the 15th century, in Wallachia and in parts of the Ottoman Empire, and the story revolves around three key characters: the siblings Ladislav (Lada) and Radu Dragwlya, and Mehmed. Lada is written as the female version of Vlad the Impaler, the author offering us a rather cruel princess, driven by anger and a sort of longing not many understand. Radu (the Handsome, as he will be known later on) is the exact opposite… at least, that’s what it looks like. A mostly fearful child, clinging to any shred of affection he receives, Radu grows to learn how to charm people and manipulate them according to his interests. As for Mehmed, with the help of the two siblings, he becomes sultan, but remains unable to truly understand his friends’ wishes.
The action does not linger for long in Wallachia, since Lada and Radu are taken from a young age to Edirne, where they were to remain as Murad’s “guests”, to be educated there. If their father remained loyal, of course. If Vlad the Impaler is not a complete stranger to you, I’m sure you’ll have an idea about what is to happen, despite the fact that the story will obviously not remain completely faithful to history. The three characters meet, we see events unfold from the point of view of Lada and Radu, and we see how they grow and how they learn to use power in different forms to their advantage.
When you have something someone else wants, there is always an element of power. (p 184)
I will say this now: I really liked this book and I recommend it. However, it’s not perfect, there are aspects which could have been better. Also, it would be interesting to see And I Darken turned into a film. I don’t really care if Lada and Radu are played by Romanian actors or not, but it would be nice to skip lousy accents. I know that the characters come from Wallachia, I don’t need a fake accent as a reminder. That being said, let’s continue with a few aspects I found disappointing, and a few others which made me enjoy reading the book.
I’ll start with the names, since that’s a part which can be overlooked in the novel if that’s what you want. If I see names like Lazăr or Ștefan, I want them to be written properly, not Lazar or Stefan. Also, Ladislav is a man’s name. Lada is not much better either. I was able to accept it as a name because it reminded me of two deities, Lado and Mano. I don’t know if there was meant to be a link between Lada’s name and folklore, but here it is.
Another thing I truly did not like was the “romance”, the love triangle that’s actually more than a triangle. There’s a time and place for something like this: not now, not in this novel. I understand why it’s there and you will too, but it’s too much. The story would have been more fascinating if the triangle remained in the background. Personally, I felt that it was pushed in my face too often, just when I wanted to see the characters grow through other experiences and with the help of someone who is not Mehmed. There are plenty of wonderful characters and I hope that we’ll meet some of them in the second part of the trilogy. To end this idea, I’ll say this: the triangle does highlight personal experiences of the siblings, their desires and insecurities… but it also makes a part of the story incredibly annoying and repetitive.
On our wedding night, I will cut out your tongue and swallow it. Then both tongues that spoke our marriage vows will belong to me, and I will be wed only to myself. You will most likely choke on your own blood, which will be unfortunate, but I will be both husband and wife and therefore not a widow to be pitied. (p 101)
That aside, what is to love? Pretty much everything else. The idea itself, the cover, the way the characters are built. I didn’t think I’d come to like a female version of Vlad the Impaler so much, but I did. I love Lada! And, my lovelies, don’t expect kind characters, who will make little to no mistakes. Lada hates the Ottoman Empire and Islam… honestly, why is anyone surprised about that? Religion remains part of the background, an element that belongs to a much bigger picture. I don’t understand why some readers demand flawed characters, just to turn their backs on them the moment their wish is granted. Or maybe just certain flaws are accepted? I don’t know, but, all in all, I’m perfectly happy with the way Kiersten White built the three characters… especially Lada.
She is violent and Radu is manipulative. And Mehmed fails to understand them, his closest friends. Most importantly, he cannot understand Lada and her love for Wallachia, for her own country. But the way they interact, the fact that we have access to Lada and Radu’s thoughts, that we see beyond appearance, this truly gives life to And I Darken. We don’t see much of that universe, but we get to know the characters quite well. They are very young, so I’m curious to see how their perspective will change as adults.
I already miss Lada, I loved her even when she annoyed me. And I definitely recommend reading the novel. Lada (and even Radu, up to a certain point) puts it among the books I’d like to reread one day. She reminds me of passion and a more violent side of one’s personality, turning fear into strength and pulling me towards her. I look forward to meeting her again, hopefully outside any love triangles. Until next time!
Souls and thrones are irreconcilable. (p 457)
by Elena Atudosiei