“AND I DARKEN,”by Kiersten White, Delacorte Press, June 28, 2016, Hardcover, $18.99 (young adult)
What if Vlad the Impaler had been a woman? That’s the question Kiersten White explores in the Conquerors Saga. “And I Darken,” the first book in the trilogy, was released June 28.
Kiersten’s story focuses on Lada Dragwlya and her younger brother, Radu. The two are happy in their homeland of Wallachia, but that changes when their father, the prince of Wallachia, abandons them in the Ottoman courts as a way to secure his position as leader. The two become pawns in an international game of intrigue, with the threat of death always hovering over their heads.
Lada sees her time with the Ottomans as temporary, planning vengeance for the day she can return to her homeland. Radu, on the other hand, finds himself comfortable for the first time in his life. When the two meet the sultan’s son Mehmed, their paths begin to come clear. For Radu, Mehmed means friendship. For Lada, it means finding an equal.
But how do you become friends with the very person who will one day hold your very life in his hands? Lada, Radu and Mehmed form a toxic triangle in which someone will always be miserable.
“And I Darken” unfolds in alternating chapters focusing on Lada and Radu. Lada and Radu are complete opposites — unattractive Lada is brutally cold and calculating and beautiful Radu is soft and sensitive. Neither is a particularly inviting character.
Radu tends to be rather boring and weak. His softness is not particularly compelling, although there are moments when he surprises with clever ideas or actions. Lada is not likeable, which is usually a problem for a main character, but works well in this case. It’s fascinating to read along as she develops.
There’s a driving force behind “As I Darken.” Kiersten’s writing is fast and accessible. And despite my dislike of some of her main characters, I still wanted to learn more. “As I Darken” feels like a standalone novel, which is to be commended. As it serves as the first chapter in Lada’s life, readers should not expect much by the way of the Dracula legends, although it feels as if Kiersten is setting the stage for much more. “As I Darken” has a large cross-over appeal for fans of alternate history.
Sensitivity note: “As I Darken” is, as the title suggests, somewhat dark. There’s a gruesome scene where young Lada and Radu watch people being impaled at court and other elements of violence laced throughout. Younger readers may also find some of the goings on in the Ottoman court uncomfortable or disturbing. I recommend “As I Darken” for older/mature YA readers, 9th grade and up.