“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.
From New York Times bestselling author Kiersten White comes the first book in a dark, sweeping new series in which heads will roll, bodies will be impaled . . . and hearts will be broken.”
My Thoughts: In And I Darken, Kiersten White takes the real-life story of Vlad III Dracul, the infamous Romanian leader also known as Vlad the Impaler, and turns it on its head. For, in her story. Vlad is no longer a boy but becomes Lada, a female with the same penchant for violence and fierce patriotism as the real-life person. A strong female character AND a retelling of the real-life history of someone I view as truly fascinating? You know this was a must-read for me.
Thankfully, Ms. White does everything right in her revisionist history. She skillfully imagines what life was like for a female noble trapped by gender and politics. Moreover, she remains faithful to Vlad’s real-life experiences. One can easily switch back and forth between the story and a history book to see that Ms. White omits nothing. This is important in understanding that truth is truly stranger than fiction, for Lada/Vlad had a very strange childhood indeed.
Lada is quite the character, the original tomboy if you will. Her passions rule her actions in all things – she lives freely, loves fiercely, and hates even more fervently. She learns the lessons life places in front of her quickly and thoroughly and meets every challenge with abandon. This proves to be a double-edged sword, and readers will ache for the little girl forced to recognize her beloved father’s disdain and eventual betrayal. Things only get worse as Lada must learn to control her passions once she is a slave within the Ottoman Empire and must weigh her growing love for Mehmed with her ingrained patriotism. Hers is a no-win life.
While portraying Lada and Radu’s experiences in captivity, Ms. White underscores the brutality of the era; she does so while treating that brutality with an eerie nonchalance also seen in the Turks with whom Lada and Radu are bound. Between the daily required observations of torture, the beatings as motivational tools, and the constant preparations for war, there is an undercurrent of violence that runs throughout the story. Not only does this tone help create tension and foreboding, it also plays a role in the molding of each of the Dragwlya children’s personalities. For, Lada embraces the violence, using it to stoke her fury while she bides her time, and Radu uses it as motivation to find a way to belong. For Lada and Radu, they fall into the Nurture camp of the Nature vs. Nurture debate on personality formation.
Given everything Lada experiences, it is easy to wonder just how sane Lada is by the time And I Darken ends. In fact, in light of some of Vlad’s later actions once he leaves captivity, it is a fair question. Being brutally torn from your family and thrust into an unfamiliar world fraught with danger has to be traumatic. The mind can take only so much abuse before it breaks, and one wonders if the torture she witnesses as well as the constant threat of danger was too much for her. Knowing what we know about Vlad, it certainly makes sense. It will be interesting to see how far Ms. White explores this very question.
There is no such thing as an easy life in the 1400s. In Ms. White’s reinvention of history, Lada Dragwlya knows that better than most, for not only is she born into a family warring with other noble families for power, she is a pawn in the ongoing battle against the Ottoman Empire. She is also female in a man’s world. Throughout And I Darken, she proves how capable she is of overcoming that perceived deficiency, but there are always more challenges to face. Fast-paced, exquisitely detailed enough to bring this familiar era to life, and with the added benefit of revisiting one of history’s most infamous warrior-rulers, there is nothing not to love in And I Darken. Waiting to see how the rest of Lada’s story unfolds is going to be excruciating.