Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Review: And I Darken - Kiersten White

And I Darken
Kiersten White
Series: The Conquerers Saga, #1
Genre: Young Adult, Historical Fiction, Romance
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

When I first saw the book on Kiersten's spreadsheet of books she got at BEA for us, I wasn't too interested in reading it and marked it as "not that interested but would read." It sounded like too much of a political historical fiction book for me to be feeling it (not that I automatically hate anything with that feel, I just didn't think it would be for me). However, I heard some good things about it from people on the ~internet~ and it sounded more interesting after reading the description again, and Kiersten ended up sending it to me with a few other BEA books -- a decision I'm glad she made because I ended up liking it a lot more than I thought I would.

And I Darken is a gender-bent Vlad the Impaler book but you don't need to know anything about Vlad the Impaler to enjoy it. I actually didn't even realize the connection until after I finished reading the book and I stumbled upon an interview where she mentioned it. I myself don't really know much about him other than he was a mean dude who impaled his enemies. Our Vlad is Lada, a ruthless, brutal girl who loves nothing but her country, Wallachia. In contrast, her brother Radu is weak and sensitive.

Something I liked about the book was that it covered a very large time frame. It started out with the births of Lada and Radu (one year apart) and ended when they were around 17/18 (ish...I don't remember exactly because I don't think it was explicitly mentioned but around that age definitely). You might think this would make the book go slower but it was written in a cohesive way that made it a pretty fast read. They would be an age, and then a Thing would happen, and then we'd skip the unimportant years of them being boring, and then the next chapter they're a few years older, ready for more Things (this makes it sound formulaic but I promise it was not).

Writing the book this way really allows us as readers to immerse ourselves in the characters and the situations and understand more of what's going on, so when it gets politics-heavy or relies on the background knowledge of their universe, we can follow along without being bored. Also, it gave a whole new dimension to Lada, who I love with all my heart and would totally go to war for.

Lada is brutal. She's blunt, ferocious, aggressive, vindictive, scathing, and most of the other synonyms for those words you can find. And yet, you root for her (well, I did). We see her birth, see her grow up, see her ruthlessness diffused through the ages, and see her reasoning for her actions inside her head. I didn't think she was cruel or monstrous as I read the book, I thought she was so strong and maybe a little misguided at times, but she was 12 for like half the book so I'm willing to let it go. I loved that she made the hard choices and made them quietly and assuredly -- she didn't need to justify her decisions or make sure she was still liked, she just needed to get her goal accomplished. Like, in one scene, she lets Radu get physically punished because she won't answer her tutor's question. She knows if she shows any hint of this affecting her, he'll be used against her always, so she has to sit quietly and continue to disobey, so it seems that punishing Radu over her is ineffective, and it stops after this incident. Radu, of course, doesn't get it, and spends a lot of time contemplating why she let him get hit.

I went really back-and-forth with liking Radu, but eventually I did. I didn't like him when he was a kid and all he did was talk about how he wanted his nurse and how he cried about literally everything (even though I cry all the time too but not as insufferably as him). However, as he grew older, he became a lot more cunning and a lot less spineless. I appreciated his type of cunning -- mostly ~ends justifies the means~ stuff -- and how even though he wasn't a warrior he wasn't just a useless little boy with too many feelings. Also I'm intrigued as to where his romantic angle will go, which was a part of the story I really liked. It took a while for me to warm up to him but Radu is definitely a character I care about.

You know who I really don't like though? Mehmed. I know he's supposed to be the ~cute, main love interest wow~ but he just annoyed me. I actually liked him earlier on in the book and thought he was pretty chill, but he just kept growing more obsessive and annoying and insufferable. Also, I feel like all he did was create a rift between what could have been the most powerful pair of siblings, and involve them in his dirty politics.

Even though they were like 12 for so much of the book, they came across as so much older. They spoke like adults, planned like adults, were given thrones for adults. It was a little unnerving but nothing I couldn't get past.

Speaking of thrones, a lot of the book's driving force was about nobility and who would be the king of the Ottomans and the Prince of Wallachia and who would invade who. All these political alliances and battles set the stage for why the characters were doing what they were doing. It wasn't really historical fiction as much as it was alternate history. I found it really interesting and I'll admit I could have used slightly less Ottoman war politics from 1400, but it were a good aspect in the book.

Overall, this book was a pretty short read, which I wasn't expecting because it seemed like it would be really heavy and I'd have to take a week to get into it. I didn't like the love element and felt like it was unnecessary, especially because I don't ship the couple and feel like she is way too good for him. I thought some of the war and politics and history stuff was a bit dense at times and a lot of info at once, which sometimes made it tiresome to read. I did like the side characters and their purposes in the book, like Bogdan, Mara, and Mehmed's mom (I can't remember her name oops). I didn't think the book was perfect but I liked it enough that I definitely want to continue the series.

Also, on an end note, here is a fun quote from Lada.

“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.”

- Noor

Ruthlessness or cunning?
Let us know in the comments!

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