Going into this book, I had heard a lot about it. I honestly wasn’t sure I was going to like it, but I did. It was well-written, had interesting characters, and tells an interesting take on historical figures. The book follows two siblings: Radu and Lada. Both are children to the ruler of Wallachia, who allows them to be taken hostage by the Ottoman Empire. As they’re raised in the Ottoman courts, Lada wants nothing more than to rule Wallachia, and struggles with allegiance to Wallachia when she and Radu befriend Mehmed, who will eventually grow to be Mehmed the Conqueror. Radu, on the other hand, sees nothing for himself in returning to Wallachia, and instead warms to the Ottoman culture. As Lada, Radu, and Mehmed grow older, politics and danger and individual passions and tempers make their relationships difficult and complex.
What made this book for me were the characters. From the synopsis, I’d assumed the book was solely from Lada’s point of view. However, the books splits between her and Radu, sometimes showing the same events from both points of view. Both are frustrating and interesting in their own ways. Lada, who is modeled after Vlad the Impaler (who is the model for Dracula), is a very strong female in a world where females are not supposed to be strong. She’s passionate and ruthless and violent, and nothing like any other character I’ve read in YA recently. While she is ruthless at times, she also has very real struggles with her feelings about others, especially her brother Radu and her friend Mehmed. I can’t say I always agreed with or cared for her actions, but I could approach understanding of them when I came to understand her as a character. Radu, on the other hand, is timid and shy. He’s basically everything Lada is not. As they age, he develops skills that she never thought he could (and he probably never thought he could). He, in his own way, becomes a political asset to Mehmed, and occasionally to Lada. Their familial relationship is complicated, but the real feelings they have for each other throughout the book are almost tangible, whether positive or negative. So much between them goes unspoken…and feels rather frustrating, but isn’t that the way of the world?
The story moves along a bit slowly, but that gives us the amazing character development that I so adored. There are occasional spikes of action, and then some lulls, but the story never felt boring. I could never tell what Lada was going to do next, and I always silently championed Radu whenever I was reading his chapters. I’m so invested in this world, that I did a bit of research on the real-life figures that the three are based on. Suffice to say, if the books go the way of history, I’ll be very interested to see exactly how we get to what actually happened. I’m sure, for me, it will be a journey fraught with lots of emotions, and maybe some tears.
Overall, I really loved this book. There is romance, but it is not the kind of YA romance you’re used to. It is never really the focal point, and the romantic type relationships explored are messy and interesting, and never really sappy. They fit the tone of the story, and evolve naturally. The characters in this book are to die for, and learning about them and having them so well built in the first book will doubtless allow White to continue to deepen our understanding in future installments of the series. I highly recommend this to anyone who likes historical fiction with STRONG and violent heroines and complex character development.
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
What did you think of And I Darken? Any other good YA fiction with heroines like Lada? Let me know in the comments!