It’s official. I can no longer claim I don’t like historical fiction. I don’t read it very often, but it seems whenever I do, I absolutely love it. I have rated the last five historical fiction books I’ve read as “best of” books for the year. And I Darken is another home run. Who wouldn’t want to read about Vlad Dracul’s tough-as-nails daughter? It’s about time we got to root for an ugly, wild, mean girl who kicks ass and kills people and, through it all, still remains the story’s heroine.
AUTHOR: Kiersten White
SERIES: Conquerers Saga, book 1
PUBLISHER: Corgi Children’s
PUBLICATION DATE: July 7, 2016
GENRE: alternate history; historical fiction
SETTING: Ottoman Empire, 1400s
GIVE IT TO: HS
SUMMARY: As the only daughter of Vlad Dracul, Prince of Wallachia, Lada grows up trying hard to make her father proud. Lada is everything her brother Radu is not: ruthless, bold, and tough. When their father uses Lada and Radu as bargaining chips to save himself, the royal siblings must fend for themselves in their gilded prison in the Ottoman Empire.
WHAT I LIKED: The characters. They were all incredibly complex, particularly Radu and Lada. I loved both and a few times, hated them as well. From childhood, Lada is tough and clever, but she’s also mean and spiteful. She reminded me a bit of Elphaba in Wicked in that she is incredibly complex and nothing like the women of her time. Radu is sweet and pensive, whiny and weak as a child, but strong and intentional as he grows older. Supporting characters–Mehmed, Vlad Dracul, Lada’s mother, Bogdan, Nicholae, Kumal, and Huma–are also multi-layered with interesting histories of their own.
Most readers will already know what Vlad Dracul was most famous for, and that history will help pull in readers. I will warn readers not to look up too much about the history while you are reading. While this is an alternative history, many of the events and people were real. I looked up some of the characters early in my reading, and I ended up sorry I did that. It gave away too much and took away the element of surprise for me.
The multiple roles of women. I wrote a paper in college about the role of women in Stoker’s Dracula, and I could write a similar paper about And I Darken. Each female character represents a type of woman at that time in history: concubine, wife, mother, servant, nurse. Of course, Lada fits none of these roles and challenges all of them. Finding herself in one of these roles is Lada’s biggest fear.
It will be easy to booktalk with students. Vlad Dracul’s story is so sensational, and most of my students have at least heard of Vlad. Vlad Dracul alone will pique their interest.
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE: It’s overlong. At nearly 500 pages, it took me about two weeks to finish. It is a bit monotonous in parts, so I wasn’t always clamoring to read. I read two other books “in between” chapters from And I Darken.
I hope to see more of the Lada front cover and less of the purple flower. The purple flower is too girly for Lada. And the title doesn’t really add anything, either. Lada was a dark character, practically from birth. The last line maybe hints to a deeper darkness to come (will there be a sequel?), but Lada was never a “light” character.
Again, I am really sad that I looked up the history while reading the book. Trust me, if you read it, resist any temptation to look up any history surrounding this story. Resist hard!
THEMES: siblings, slavery, power and limitations of women, war, loyalty
THE BOTTOM LINE: Incredible writing and a powerful story. Easily among 2016’s best.
STATUS IN MY LIBRARY: It comes out June 28, which means I’ll be in the USA just after it releases. Yay! That means I can buy it for the library when I come home to visit this summer!
- Overall: 4/5
- Creativity: 5/5
- Characters: 5/5
- Engrossing: 4/5
- Writing: 5/5
- Appeal to teens: 4/5
- Appropriate length to tell the story: 3/5
- Language: none
- Sexuality: medium–concubines, attempted rape, childbirth, kissing (M/M and M/F)–it sounds like more than it is
- Violence: very high–murder, blood, impaling, war, fighting
- Drugs/Alcohol: none–a few references to testing food for poison
- Other: homosexuality