And I Darken (The Conqueror’s Saga)
By Kiersten White
Published by Delacorte Press
Genre: 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 have to admit that I put And I Darken off for quite some time intentionally. I was fearful of the mixed hype surrounding it. The synopsis screamed to be read, and I did not want to be disappointed. Fortunately, I was anything but and now am kicking myself for having waited so long to begin Kierstin White’s Conqueror’s Saga.
2018 Popsugar Reading Challenge prompt: A book about a villain or anti-hero.
(Yes, I am counting Lada as an anti-hero here.)
The skinny: Lada and Radu Dragwlya find themselves ripped away from their homeland Wallachia and imprisoned wards of the Ottoman courts as part of an agreement between their father and the sultan. Abandoned and without anyone to trust, they soon learn they are puppets in a dangerous political game. Lada seeks vengeance and to return home, while Radu merely wishes to find a safe place to belong. When they meet the sultan’s heir, Mehmed, something unexpected begins to happens. The three will soon find loyalties, friendship and even love tested to the fullest extent.
Aesthetic was created from various images collected on Pinterest.
These characters! I have to admit that I found myself fully committed not only to Lada, but Radu and Mehmed as well. It did not take long to establish a bond with each that would be hard to sever. Lada is complex and slowly developed through a series of layers revealed as new emotions she gradually encounters while growing into a women. Raised with a thick and viscous skin, she soon discovers she is riddled with her own weaknesses and feelings that she struggles to make sense of. Her morals and approaches are almost always questionable, but deep underneath lies something that appeals to the reader and begs to be explored. Radu is gentle and viewed as weak, but his strength surfaces in a different manner. He is cunning in terms of politics when it comes to speaking and making acquaintances. He also harbors a secret (that I so badly want to discuss but refuse to spoil) that evolves beautifully and realistically. I admired the author’s approach to his growth and eventual self-acceptance. Mehmed is doting, protecting and that guy that everyone wants to be with. He is accepted effortlessly and the perfect balance between Lada and Radu.
The plot and politics, yes more please! The political system implemented within was entirely conducive to the story-line and character development. It is well thought out and knowledgeable, presenting well-balanced exchanges of power and allegiances that fuel intrigue and drive the story forward at a rewarding pace. While leisurely at times, each transition is appropriately timed, fostering an immersive and cleverly emotional read that feels natural. This is a unique perspective of the effects that power and desire have on humanity, that actually challenges the reader to question whether there are lesser evils in life that must be considered at times.
A love story (or not) tucked within?! Yes, and I loved it! If you have not figured it out by now, there is a lot happening in And I Darken. This includes a potential love story that could not be referred to as a romance, but a distinct exploration of human emotions and the influences and impacts that growth, self-discovery and even politics have on them. I applaud White for presenting something that falls outside of common tropes.
Conclusion: While, I have seen this strangely classified as Fantasy, I am here to say it is not. But what it is, is an incredible approach to YA Historical Fiction that promises to continue to grow into something of true value. If you enjoy intriguing politics, tangible characters and immersive settings with a nice dose of diversity, this is a must!
Enjoyed with Jasmine Lavender tea and a small amount of honey.