And I Darken (The Conqueror’s Saga, #1)
Published June 28, 2016, by Delacorte Press.
YA > Historical Fiction
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, 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 hate to say it, but I was so disappointed with this one. I had seen so many wonderful reviews, and so many other bloggers had been urging me to read it, yet it fell short of my expectations.
The first thing that really threw me off about the book was that the characters start out extremely young. This was completely unexpected for me since, as a YA book, I was expecting at least teenaged characters. At first, I was fine with this, but I quickly became frustrated that there wasn’t a jump into the future where they’ve aged more. Almost half of the book follows the main characters from birth to age 13. While these years of the character’s lives are most definitely relevant to the later half of the book and needed to be included, they were slow and boring to me. It took me almost double the amount of time to get through the first half as the second. Once I made it through that first half, the slow pacing was no longer an issue for me. I really love and respect intricately woven, carefully plotted books, which this one definitely is.
But again — these characters were my main source of problems. By the time the characters had aged to teens, I just didn’t feel anything for them. Had I enjoyed the characters themselves, I feel like I would have been able to enjoy the story better as a whole. But, I had a horrible time trying to like these characters. Lada was fierce, powerful, and strong, but gave in so easily for Mehmed, who just didn’t seem worth it. It’s easy to say that I loved Lada much more as a peculiar, stubborn, headstrong child, than the Lada who grows into a young woman who starts making decisions based on her love for an unworthy man. While I liked Lada better toward the beginning of the book, the opposite was the case for me with Radu. He really grows into his skin the older he gets, cleverly learning how to navigate the politics of the court. But he still had moments when he was wimpy, self-pitying, and frankly quite annoying — that is until Mehmed stole that role away from him. Ugh, Mehmed. He was pretentious, does nothing of worth, yet always wants to be in complete control. Somehow both Lada and Radu come to love and worship him, just because he treated them kindly as children. I couldn’t find much else reasoning behind their loyalty to him. The secondary characters, Bogdan and Nicolae, were my favorites, providing breaths of fresh air away from the protagonists. They didn’t get nearly enough of a role in the story, in my eyes!
Oh goodness, then there’s the one-sided love triangle. This was actually the most interesting and unexpected, but pleasant, surprise in the whole book. While I hated Lada and Mehmed together, and don’t think Radu and Mehmed would have made for a much better couple (mostly just because I really really dislike Mehmed as a character), I liked seeing Radu struggle with his sexuality and feelings in this time period. As couples go, I was really shipping Lada with either Nicolae or Bogdan!
What kept me reading was Kiersten White’s writing and the political intrigue. This book is incredibly rich and detailed when describing the world. I was transported to Wallachia and the Ottoman Empire. It’s also definitely a quotable book, that’s for sure. There were so many parts of the book that were just stunning to read. Yet, it doesn’t shy away from the realities of life at court in this time period and location. It’s a brutal and violent book.
Seeing the carefully crafted strategies play out was wonderful, as were Lada’s action scenes. My favorite Lada scenes were always when she was with the Janissaries, whether it be training or just their conversations. Radu’s ability to win the love of his enemies was also great to see, especially after him struggling so much throughout the entire book. I did find myself rooting for things to work out for him so that he could find happiness.
I came for the promise of another fabulous historical fiction with an incredible reimagining of real-life figures but stayed for the gorgeous writing. Unfortunately, I just couldn’t go all in for the characters. For those that don’t like slower-paced books, I wouldn’t recommend this one. But if you’re in it for the long haul, I’d take the time and give it a try. And I Darken sets itself apart from White’s other books, because her writing is definitely something special.