I don’t mind admitting that I hit ‘request’ for Kiersten White’s ‘And I Darken’ on NetGalley based purely on two things. The title. And that bodacious cover. But I just knew from the blurb that this book had a good chance of being very “me”.
A female Vlad the Impaler? Yes please. Times a million.
Warning: This post may get lost in a forest of fangirling. #sorrynotsorryWhat initially impressed me, and fascinated me, was that ‘And I Darken’ is a historically set book. It’s not made-up, it’s rooted in fact and very real places and people. Sure, the truth has been stretched and some things have been made different for the sake of badass storytelling. But this is not Fantasy. But it has that feel. So if you’re a Fantasy fan this book will probably suit you very well.
If I made a quick comparison I would say ‘Poison Study’ by Maria V. Snyder because it has similar subtle complexities, deeply felt emotion and totally rockin’ characters. If you’re a Snyder fan then believe me when I say the impossible has happened and Valek and Yelena have been channelled into one single character. And she is amazing.
So, what really worked for me?
Lada – As a main character she floored me. Strong, but not without her flaws or her own weaknesses. She’s not limitless, but she aims high. Set against the backdrop of a world that does not really recognise women as leaders, or as fighters (huh, sounds familiar), Lada wants nothing more than to be given her place, ruling Wallachia. Instead she’s used as a pawn to keep peace and passed from one man (her father) to another (her father’s ruler). If anyone has seen/read ‘Game of Thrones’ there is something very Yara about Lada and I loved that.
Radu – I ended up feeling for his character in a totally different way than Lada. As her younger brother he’s often saved by her, or protected by her. But what was truly magical was how he came into his own. Watching that transformation and how he learned to use the quieter skills he had, was very compelling. My heart breaks for Radu. He is the epitome of unrequited love.
Mehmed – There was something slightly slippery about his character that I enjoyed. On the one hand, Lada and Radu play him and his friendship with them, but on the other, he uses them too. It’s a complex relationship, made even more complex by deeper feelings all round! I thought the way you saw notable changes in Mehmed in different situations was very true to reality, and it made everything feel more engaging because you never really knew how he might react to Lada or Radu (or indeed the rest of the Ottoman court). He reminded me a little of Nikolai from Leigh Bardugo’s ‘The Grisha’ trilogy.
Setting/World building – Even though this is set in this world, it feels like something fantastical. Total immersion into another way of living and different cultures/beliefs. It has a Templar feel about it. That sounds weird, but it should make sense when you read it. Trust. The attention to detail is phenomenal. Kiersten White has really pulled out all the stops with this narrative.
Themes – There is so much going on and I loved every second. Feminism. Politics. Friendship. Love. Family. Duty. Sexuality. War. Death. It has everything I have ever wanted from a YA book. All wrapped up into one. Thank you very much.
Grit – It’s got grit. Real grit. Blood, fighting, gnarly grit. And I adore how unforgiving it is in places. The writing is an honest-to-goodness work of art.
If it were me, what would I have done differently?
Not much, tbh. This book knocked me for six because I haven’t read something that I was so truly locked into for a long time. ‘And I Darken’ is intelligently written, incredibly addictive and has a set of characters to rival George R. R. Martin. It’s mostly told from Lada’s POV but it does move a little, and for once I didn’t mind. I actually enjoyed Radu’s POV very much also. If this book doesn’t change your world, that’s ok. But it did mine. And I will be recommending it until kingdom come.
If I ever get the chance to meet Kiersten White I might never get to say any of these things because my love for this book would probably stick my tongue to the roof of my mouth. But I would shakily ask her to sign it, and while she was doing so I would be silently saying all the things. Haha!
An easy 5/5. Read this book, fam. It’s a masterpiece.
(Released July 7th – received with much thanks from the publisher through NetGalley. Opinions are all my own, yo)