Review: And I Darken

No one expects a princess to be brutal. And Lada Dragwyla likes it that way.

Ever since she and her brother were abandoned by their father to be raised in the Ottoman sultan’s courts, Lada has known that ruthlessness is the key to survival. For the lineage that makes her and her brother special also makes them targets.

The first of an epic new trilogy starring the ultimate anti-princess who does not have a gentle heart. Lada knows how to wield a sword, and she’ll stop at nothing to keep herself and her brother alive.

I heard about this book from a book club meeting I attended in Adelaide (BTW if you live in Adelaide and don’t attend the YA Circle Book Club meetings, what are you doing with your life?) and bought this book solely on the recommendations from the girls, Sian and Tori.  Considering that I hadn’t really read or heard anything about the plot of this book, it was pure luck that this purchase turned out to be a good one.

I enjoyed this book from chapter one, it gripped me right from the start. The story opens with the birth of the Dracul siblings, explaining the difference between the first born girl, and the second born boy. It was the very explicit difference between the genders that grabbed me, as a girl I immediately identified with Lada and her struggle to be seen and appreciated in a male dominated world and time. This struggle is central to Lada’s core and carries through the entire book and for me it was the hook that caught me early and kept me reading.

Lada isn’t a typical princess, she’s violent and determined to be seen as more than just a girl and she’s willing to fight anyone her calls her one. I loved that she is a fierce girl, that she is violent and harsh, that she has a lot of faults and few redeeming qualities. While there is definitely a movement in YA fantasy lately that has crass, violent female protagonists, I felt like Lada didn’t fall into that trope. Its very clear why she is the way she is and we really see into her head, so she becomes more than just a YA trope, but rather a fully fleshed out character.

Radu is Lada’s younger brother and he’s certainly the sensitive sibling, struggling to live in a world he doesn’t understand, with a sister that doesn’t offer any sympathy for her brother’s sensitivity or explanations for her actions. I found Radu a bit hard to read at first, especially as a young boy because he was just so whiny all the time but as he aged and the story progressed  I started to better understand him as an individual character, rather than just a character in opposition to Lada.

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Hauntingly powerful cover art

The story progressed as a dual narrative, following both Radu and Lada, offering their own perspectives of situations and each other. I loved the dual narrative style, it offered some much needed depth to the characters; it gave perspective to their actions and motivations. For example often Radu thought his sister hated him, couldn’t stand the sight of him and would give him up the first chance she got, but once you read Lada’s chapter it was clear she knew he was a weakness that could be used against her, so she presented a facade that she didn’t care about him at all, tricking their enemies and keeping her brother safe. The depth the dual narrative offers really rounded out characters, it showed that they were more than just two siblings who appeared to be opposites, but rather their own individual characters. This was a hugely important factor because while the plot is all about the struggle for power, typical of a fantasy story, it’s the added character depth and dual narrative that sets this story apart.

While you might call this story fantasy, there is a basis in human reality. The story takes place back in time starting in Translyvania in 1435 and then continues in the Ottoman Empire in 1448 through to 1453. Kiersten wrote in an authors note at the end of the book that the story is a reimagining of Vlad the Impaler, where in this book Vlad is actually Lada. This is a really interesting twist and layer to the story but as I was reading the book, that wasn’t clear to me. Maybe I missed some of the cues and hints dropped along the way, either way it does add something to the book but even if you miss that layer, it’s still a really engrossing story.

Like most fantasy stories, at it is at it’s core a story about power and the struggle between people with power and those without. It’s about the difference between genders in ancient society and how that affects the perception of power, I loved the focus on how women try to make the most of their power in different ways and how even though they are perceived to have none, there is power in making your own decisions. As a woman I really identified with the female struggle, and while it wasn’t the most unique or groundbreaking plot point it did keep me engaged and reading.

If you’re looking for a YA fantasy read that full of action, violence, well developed characters and has a strong power struggle, this is the book for you.

4.5 stars out of 5

 

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