Gender-Bent Dracula is nothing less than awesome, or my review of And I Darken

And I Darken

And I Darken (Conquerer’s Saga #1)

By: Kiersten White 

Publisher: Delacorte Press

Publication Date: June 28th, 2016

Format: Hardback


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, 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.

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5 star (unicorn)

Because I am a librarian-in-training, I ended up in the Chapel Hill Public Library. And because I have no self-control in the face of books, I ended up walking out with a brand-new library card and the book And I Darken. I’d heard from several sources that this was a book to watch, and these sources were correct. A Gender-Bent Vlad Dracul was nothing less than awesome.

I didn’t realize at first that this was a gender-bending thing. If you don’t know much about Ottoman history (and, let’s face it, I don’t), then it’s not an obvious connection. It took me most of the book to realize exactly what was going on, but it made looking back at the book a richer experience. I ended up marveling at how cleverly Kerstin White had subverted the history, and the typical gender norms, while not going too far and still sticking to the general facts. Especially cool was the addition of Vlad/Lada’s brother Radu, who appears to be a little-known figure in the history books.

Although the story was a little slow, especially in the beginning, it felt like a historical saga (which it was). I was able to be patient with the slow plot, especially because even during the slow parts there was this fascinating interplay between the characters. Also, I recently noticed that this is a series. I don’t know how many books are going to be in the series, but And I Darken seems to be setting up for later books. And, having quickly googled Vlad Dracul III and Mehmed the Conqueror, I have no doubt that this is going to be an intense series. I love the dance that Kerstin White is doing, in blending established historical events with her own story, and so far at least she’s been doing it very well.

There was also this truly fascinating interplay between the three main characters. I couldn’t get enough of Lada and her ferocious, almost brutal, manner. But I also loved the sweet-but-cunning Radu, and I found myself utterly fascinated by how the siblings balanced each other, where they diverged and how they were similar. Mehmed wasn’t quite as interesting, but when put with Lada and Radu, he added nuance and tension to their relationship. His main role is as Emperor, but his relationship with these two foreigners is fascinating.

And the love triangle. I’m not usually a fan of love triangles, but this one was truly, masterfully done. I thought that the sexual tension and power struggle between Mehmed and Lada was fascinating. And Radu’s unrequited love for Mehmed added another interesting facet to everything. The way that Radu and Lada competed for Mehmed’s love/respect, and yet still maintained a strong sibling bond, added real dimension to the book.

The treatment of sex in the book was also, frankly, fascinating. The harem and harem culture plays a role. Of course the presence of the harem affected Mehmed’s and Lada’s relationship, but it also played a role in Lada’s mentality of sex, freedom and her body. There’s a discussion between Mehmed and Lada about female pleasure, and how she’s questioning what the women of the harem get from him in return, which deserves all the applause. Lada’s constant relationship with the Janissaries added another dimension which was fascinating (although an aside, I LOVED how most of the men came to fully respect and even honor her). I also loved how Lada had a hook nose and constantly tangled hair and didn’t give a shit about how she looked. 

Radu’s sexuality was also frankly discussed–there’s a moment when he realizes that Mehmed and Lada are a thing, and he briefly wishes that he were Lada, then he realizes that he wishes he were himself, and that Mehmed loved him. That scene was excellently done. I also found Radu’s relationships with other men, like his friend Lazar, to be deeply interesting. The addition of his friend’s sister Naziya as his wife/‘beard’ was also great, and I look forward to seeing how that plays out. Overall, Radu was a wonderfully nuanced character whose sexuality was NOT the most interesting thing about him, and I loved it.

Like I said, the plot was somewhat slow at times, although it did feel like the beginning of some sort of grand saga, so I was OK with that. I feel like the second book is going to be really intense, however. Although there are plenty of gaps in the history, Wikipedia has told me enough that I am extremely curious. What really intrigues me, though, is how Kiersten White is going to play with the established history and the relationships she’s already built. The second book can honestly not come soon enough.

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Disclaimer: The synopsis and cover picture were pulled from the book’s Goodreads page. Neither belong to us.

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