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.
♥ Quick Thoughts and Rating: 3 stars! And I Darken frustrated me to no end, bored me at times, kept me riveted and inspired at others, and finally left me floundering when trying to write out a review for it. If I could break it down, Lada as a character would easily get 5 stars, the first half would get 1 or 2 stars, and the last quarter of the book would be flirting with another 5-star rating. That’s why, ultimately, I’ve decided to settle somewhere in the middle and give it the rating that I did.
Darkly brutal and sometimes devastatingly slow-moving, And I Darken left me wanting more even though it was a long road to get there.
♥ Review: Let me start this review portion by stating that it took me almost a month and a half of picking the book up, finding little appeal, and setting it back down again before I ever made it to the 20% mark. It then took an additional two weeks to make it to the 40% mark, but I could feel the tide changing. Then, at long last, I got to somewhere a little after the 50% mark and I didn’t want to set it back down. I finished it in a few short hours. With the promise the ending held, I was even curious about what the next book would bring, which is odd considering that I almost slapped a “DNF” on it and went about my business with how the first half started.
This novel had several things working both for it and against it in my opinion. I’ve waffled back and forth about whether to deal out the good or bad parts first, and I figure we’ll go in chronological order of the book and I like to end on a good note, so we’re going to have to dive into what didn’t necessarily work well for me first. But before I really get into it, I just want to note that even the bad things had so positive aspects, so I won’t just be outright ripping parts of this book to shreds.
For me, the biggest crime this book committed was the awful, dragging pace. The first half of the book is Lada and Radu being born and moving through their childhood. While I understand it’s important to set up the backstory and see how these events and circumstances would shape them into the teenagers they would come and the decisions they would make, it felt very one note and repetitious after a while. I felt little connection to the characters—Lada was mean and ugly while Radu cried a lot, but he was so beautiful, even as a child—and found no intrigue about what was going on around them. To be honest, the only real reason I continued for so long was due to the many reviews praising the book for being brilliant and I wanted to know what I was missing out on. The second biggest factor to me not quitting early was Lada already being a little terror and I was curious about the woman she would become.
My second biggest issue was what I somewhat consider to be plot flaws that also contributed to the poor pacing. From the summary, I thought there would be much action and battlefield time. I was actually looking forward to a girl showing guys the business on the warfront, so color me super surprised when Lada never gets the opportunity to show her wits, strengths, and pure brutality in battle. (Though, she shows it in other ways.) A majority of this plot and empire fighting is done in political warfare at home and abroad and among the court, people posturing for better influence with the sultans and other government officials or securing a position for themselves or their kids. While I can appreciate the honesty of how it really captures the essence of that time period, and that it gave Radu the opportunity to show his greatest strength, I found that keeping up with the different levels of government and who was good, bad, and worse, it felt dense and weighed down the text. And I Darken was also very religion-heavy, something I wasn’t exactly anticipating, though considering that period in history and the Ottoman Empire, perhaps I should have. While it never came across as too preachy, it was a steady vocal point for two major characters and tension among others. I didn’t necessarily hate that it was such an integral part of a character’s storyline or a major part of the book, but I definitely missed the action when Lada wasn’t destroying dudes. (Though, I did learn a good deal about Islam that I didn’t know about before having read this.)
What I loved:
At the top of what I loved most about this book, you’ll find my complete appreciation for Lada’s character! Even before I started reading, what initially drew me to this book was the pitch about Vlad the Impaler reimagined in girl form. It was immediate intrigue for me just from that simple synopsis. But Lada’s character complexity and her story arc seems to go so much deeper than that. Out of everyone, I rooted for her the most and I think it’s because she championed herself harder than I ever seen a character, guy or girl, go for themselves. It’s a man’s world, but Lada isn’t content to just sit back and let her life be controlled by the hands of anyone other than herself, especially by any man. Lada is confident in what she wants and knows what she’s willing to sacrifice in order to reach her goals. She’s stubborn, cunning, and vicious. But underneath all that, she hates the vulnerability being a girl forces her to surrender to, she loves her little brother as much as she hates them, and she quickly learns that being a women, even if deemed ugly by society standards, has its perks too as long as you know how to work them to your advantage. I also loved that while Mehmed held so much of her heart and her fierce protectiveness of her brother felt like a weight hanging around her shoulders and keeping her tied to Edirne, she didn’t have any problem shrugging off those chains to go after what she wanted most in heart, her country. Her home. I may have fistpumped like crazy when she said with such finality, “Make me a prince.” Now what kind of reviewer would I be if I didn’t include some quotes that showed how amazingly ruthless our little dragon could be…
Lada spoke with a quiet, clear voice, and the room hushed in surprise. No one expected a girl to speak. She was probably not allowed to. Radu knew Lada would not care either way. “On our wedding night, she said, “I will cut out your tongue and swallow it. Then both tongues that spoke our marriage vows will belong to me, and I will be wed only to myself. You will most likely choke to death on your own blood, which will be unfortunate, but I will be both husband and wife and therefore not a widow to be pitied.”
-quote taken from the eARC of And I Darken at 22%
“Not very pretty for a whore.” The soldier tugged on a strand of her hair. She ducked under his arm, grabbing his wrist and twisting it behind his back to pin him. It was a trick she had learned under the harsh tutelage of Mircea and perfected by practicing on Bogdan and Radu. The soldier shouted angrily and tried to pull away, so she twisted harder, pushing up again the joint. He yelped in pain.
“You are prettier than I.” She put more pressure on his arm. “Perhaps you could offer yourself as a whore instead.”
-quote taken from the eARC of And I Darken at 25%
My next favorite element of this book was its wide variation of the relationships introduced; friends, siblings, comrades, rulers and underlings, mother and son. There’s so many different levels of love and the dilemmas that come with it presence in this story. To go in depth on this subject would reveal some pretty crucial plot points and likely take up more of your time (if you’re even still here at this point), but I did want to note that I really enjoyed the way that White tackled all of it—this intricate web of tangled emotions and how it linked almost everyone in this story in some way. Love was used like a tool for bartering, made people vulnerable or protected, motivated their grandest ambitions, sealed fates, and formed unbreakable bonds between friends and brothers in arms. It was angsty and awesome and awful all at once. It hurt my heart and buoyed it simultaneously, and I simply couldn’t get enough of this love-triangle (octagon? hexagon?) that went so much deeper than face value. I’m curious to see how all these relationships play out in the future. Also, don’t let this scare you off. While it isn’t exactly straight-forward, it isn’t messy and people love who they love and while it’s certainly a complication, White delivered it flawlessly.
Lastly, I loved the thread of woman power that runs like a beautiful, forceful current throughout this book. I love how there were so many representations of how women can be strong in varying degrees. That knowledge of power that we can manifest in ourselves—how we create it, can accomplish it, our capability to hold on to it, be more than what’s expected in a male-dominant world—it was a thing of absolute beauty and magnificence. Furthermore, I appreciated the gender reversal in this book that stepped far and away from your stereotypical badass heroine. In this book, Radu was the pretty one with the innocent smiles and wide-eyed wonder that was used for his influence to gain his own power while Lada wasn’t your typical beauty that was also “strong.” No, she was powerful because she demanded of herself and commanded it from others. She used her wits and her drive not to be better than just the guys, but to be the best of everyone, to put herself into position to make all her dreams come true under her own doing. White truly captured my heart with this aspect.
Lada’s blood turned to ice. “Would you command me to stay? And if I refuse? Will you have me beaten? Whipped? All that and more I have faced in your father’s courts. I did not bow before your god or your sultan then, and I will not now. Why did you bring me here, Mehmed? I will not be ruled.”
-quote taken from the eARC of And I Darken at 26%
♥ Teaser Quote: While I may have battled with boredom at times, it was never because of the numerous wonderful quotes and inspired text that White stuffed into this book, as I’m sure you’ve noticed after I’ve included so many already. I have pages of highlights, and I haven’t shared a quarter of them yet.
“The price of living seems to always be death.”
Tohin stood, joints popping audibly. “And that is why you become a dealer of death. You feed death as many people as you can to keep it full and content so its eye stays off you.”
-quote taken from the eARC of And I Darken at 71%
|Book Rating Breakdown|
|General Book Feels|
|Angst Me So Good|
♥ Rec It? Maybe. As evident by the varying reviews on Goodreads that range from flat-out “did not finish” to glowing praise saddled with five-star ratings, this is probably one of those books that you have to read a bit before you decide whether you’ll be all in or all out. Though, I will admit to being somewhat happy that I pushed through my struggles with the first half of the book to get to the better second half.
Nicolae got past his reverence, grinning at her. “Well, are you ready, Lada Dragwlya, daughter of the dragon?”
Fire burned in her heart, and her wounded soul spread out, casting a shadow like wings across her country. This was hers. Not because of her father. Not because of Mehmed. Because the land itself had claimed her as its own.
“Not Drawlya,” she said. “Lada Dracul. I am no longer the daughter of the dragon.” She lifted her chin, sights set on the horizon. “I am the dragon.”
-quote taken from the eARC of And I Darken at 100%
♥ A very special thanks to Delacorte Press and NetGalley for providing me with an advanced copy of this title.
*Disclaimer: An eARC of this title was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. However, that did not influence this review in any way. All thoughts, quotes, and opinions will be of this version and not of the published edition.
Full of giggles, flails, snark and Southern endearments. Avid Reader. Lover of swoony boys, kickass heroines, yummy kissing scenes, and pretty prose.
I like to draw hearts in the sky (eternal optimist) and wish on stars (forever dreamer). Documentaries, sweet tea, sleep, and brightly colored knee-socks are a few of my favorite things. ♥
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