Jun 25th

ARC Review of And I Darken

Posted in Reviews
And I Darken

Title: And I Darken
Author: Kiersten White
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Date Published: June 28, 2016
Where I got the book: ARC received in a subscription box
Synopsis from Goodreads:
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 absolutely could not put this book down! It is by far the best novel Kiersten White has written to date. While her other novels have been entertaining, And I Darken is a more complex story and shows the depth of White’s writing talent. Lada is a wonderful main character; the plot is fast paced and fascinating. As I love history, especially that of foreign cultures, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy of this book. The gender swap really sold me as well. I already love reading about Vlad Tepes, but to picture him as a female? That is truly a visionary concept.

The plot was excellent. I love that we get to see a good bit of Lada and Radu as children. This helps the reader to understand both the characters and their motivations. Some of this was a little difficult to read. I love that Lada is so strong and fierce, but often she is also cruel. No matter her motivations, her treatment of Radu was painful to read. The further I got into the story, the more confusing my feelings became. Lada and Radu’s personalities change in ways that make you drastically change how you see them. I didn’t feel very attached to any other characters. They weren’t well fleshed out, even as side characters. The janissaries were especially interesting; I wish we could have seen more of them. Mehmed was a disappointment. I expected him to be a character I became attached to but he often came across flippant and useless. I found that I could not force myself to empathize with him.

I loved the setting. White describes Wallachia and Turkey in so much detail you can picture it perfectly in your mind. The historical details and the scenic descriptions really kept me interested in the story. The writing was surprisingly well done. I expected the exciting but simplistic storytelling I saw in previous books, however I received far more. The attention to detail was superior. The complexity of the characters was incredible. Lada is not your average YA heroine and that made this book truly exceptional.

Not everything was to my liking though. Radu was terrible. I pitied him early in the book, but that pity quickly turned to hatred. You can give a character plenty of reasons to be weak or petty; that doesn’t always excuse it. I hated so many of the things he did to Lada. It felt like a betrayal. I also disliked the ridiculous characterization of a gay man. White portrays Radu as extremely weak, useless, petty, and vengeful. With the overwhelming dearth of realistic and positive representations of LGBT+ characters in literature, it was disappointing to see Radu pigeonholed like this. His characterization really lacked complexity. My dislike for him nearly resulted in a DNF. She did give him a backstory that explained his behavior to a degree, so I soldiered on. I’m still pretty upset about it. I also really disliked the sibling relationship in And I Darken. I like to see strong familial bonds, siblings banding together to face whatever life throws at them. Instead we are given a terrible relationship filled with cruelty and misunderstandings–not to mention the“toxic triangle” that made me a little ill.

Even with all of that, I still enjoyed reading this book. I still love the premise and I hope the second book makes up for the ways in which And I Darken fell short. If you love history and strong female leads, then you should definitely give And I Darken a chance. If you’re looking for good LGBT+ representation, I would look somewhere else.

And I Darken

Title: And I Darken
Author: Kiersten White
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Date Published: June 28, 2016
Where I got the book: ARC received in a subscription box
Synopsis from Goodreads:
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 absolutely could not put this book down! It is by far the best novel Kiersten White has written to date. While her other novels have been entertaining, And I Darken is a more complex story and shows the depth of White’s writing talent. Lada is a wonderful main character; the plot is fast paced and fascinating. As I love history, especially that of foreign cultures, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy of this book. The gender swap really sold me as well. I already love reading about Vlad Tepes, but to picture him as a female? That is truly a visionary concept.

The plot was excellent. I love that we get to see a good bit of Lada and Radu as children. This helps the reader to understand both the characters and their motivations. Some of this was a little difficult to read. I love that Lada is so strong and fierce, but often she is also cruel. No matter her motivations, her treatment of Radu was painful to read. The further I got into the story, the more confusing my feelings became. Lada and Radu’s personalities change in ways that make you drastically change how you see them. I didn’t feel very attached to any other characters. They weren’t well fleshed out, even as side characters. The janissaries were especially interesting; I wish we could have seen more of them. Mehmed was a disappointment. I expected him to be a character I became attached to but he often came across flippant and useless. I found that I could not force myself to empathize with him.

I loved the setting. White describes Wallachia and Turkey in so much detail you can picture it perfectly in your mind. The historical details and the scenic descriptions really kept me interested in the story. The writing was surprisingly well done. I expected the exciting but simplistic storytelling I saw in previous books, however I received far more. The attention to detail was superior. The complexity of the characters was incredible. Lada is not your average YA heroine and that made this book truly exceptional.

Not everything was to my liking though. Radu was terrible. I pitied him early in the book, but that pity quickly turned to hatred. You can give a character plenty of reasons to be weak or petty; that doesn’t always excuse it. I hated so many of the things he did to Lada. It felt like a betrayal. I also disliked the ridiculous characterization of a gay man. White portrays Radu as extremely weak, useless, petty, and vengeful. With the overwhelming dearth of realistic and positive representations of LGBT+ characters in literature, it was disappointing to see Radu pigeonholed like this. His characterization really lacked complexity. My dislike for him nearly resulted in a DNF. She did give him a backstory that explained his behavior to a degree, so I soldiered on. I’m still pretty upset about it. I also really disliked the sibling relationship in And I Darken. I like to see strong familial bonds, siblings banding together to face whatever life throws at them. Instead we are given a terrible relationship filled with cruelty and misunderstandings–not to mention the“toxic triangle” that made me a little ill.

Even with all of that, I still enjoyed reading this book. I still love the premise and I hope the second book makes up for the ways in which And I Darken fell short. If you love history and strong female leads, then you should definitely give And I Darken a chance. If you’re looking for good LGBT+ representation, I would look somewhere else.

By Kate Woods

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