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Friday, May 13, 2016

ARC Book Review: And I Darken by Kiersten White

Author: Kiersten White
Series: The Conquerors Saga #1
Publisher: Corgi Childrens
Release Date: June 28th 2016
My Rating: 5 cups
Source: Netgalley
Blurb (from Goodreads):
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.

Lada hones her skills as a warrior as she nurtures plans to wreak revenge on the empire that holds her captive. Then she and Radu meet the sultan’s son, Mehmed, and everything changes. Now Mehmed unwittingly stands between Lada and Radu as they transform from siblings to rivals, and the ties of love and loyalty that bind them together are stretched to breaking point.

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.

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*Disclaimer: I received an eARC of this book from Netgalley and Penguin Random House UK Children’s in exchange for an honest review. This does not influence my review or my opinion of the book.

There are books that I love and then there are the books that blow my mind in such a way that it goes beyond me merely enjoying them. It's been a while since I've read a book that I thought deserved the "Recommended Read" badge/rating, but And I Darken is definitely one of those. But I'll get to the why of this later on. Let me first talk about the characters, because they were simply amazing.

Lada is one of those characters that at times I wanted to hate, but I just couldn't. Being a girl, born to the most powerful man in a medieval country, has to be tough. I liked how the author explores that aspect a little bit in the beginning of the book, how Lada struggles to make her father see her as worthy and as just as good as her brothers. Then, she and her younger brother, Radu, are given to the Ottomans as tribute. It was a very interesting theme throughout the book, how the siblings coped with their situation, how they adapted to a new culture, new environment, new rules, new language. I can't help but admire Lada's wits. She's a natural at leading, she is a leader, and I was really hoping she'd succeed. She's the antihero, and I fell in love with her because she was not the typical female character in a historical novel.

Radu was an interesting character. He is the complete opposite of Lada: he's not a leader, he's not a fighter, he's definitely not as strong as Lada, especially when they were kids. There's also a really interesting development towards the end of the book that, considering the time period, it is such a great thing to explore. I hope that the next book explores that more in depth and show how Radu deals with certain aspects of his life more. At times I felt he was a bit too sensitive, too weak, but then I realized that his ability to get near people, to talk to them, to make them talk to him, is what make him a great figure, from a historical perspective.

Mehmed is also a really interesting character. He's very different than Lada and Radu. At times I thought that he has no idea what he wants. He might have a good heart, he might want the throne of the Ottoman Empire, but I feel that if he hadn't have Lada by his side, he wouldn't have had it.

I said earlier that I was going to explain my "Recommended Read" rating. I don't know if you know this, but I am Romanian. So for me, as for many other Romanians, the figure of Vlad the Impaler is a really important one for our history. He's basically a national hero. That's what we're told in school, in books, in movies, everywhere. So because of that I usually stay away from books and foreign movies that portray him as anything but a hero, simply because I don't see him as the bloodthirsty tyrant or as the old-as-dirt vampire that these movies and books show him to be. The idea of a female version of him was really intriguing. I still wasn't sure I wanted to read the book, until I saw the cover that I put in the beginning of this post, on Netgalley, and I knew that I had to read it. I'll be honest and say that at a certain point I wanted to just put the book down, outraged. Because some of the things shown in this book are nothing like what I knew them to be. However, to say I know my country's history would be a big fat lie. I only know a small portion of it, mainly what is taught in school, and let's face it, the important things, like, for instance, how Radu gained his "the Beautiful" nickname, will never be discussed in school. But after that initial thought, I decided to keep reading. And the reason that I think everyone should read this book is that it serves as a discussion starter. In school, I never got to explore the consequences of Vlad and Radu going to Edirne and live with the Ottomans for a good portion of their formative years. History books usually talk about how much Vlad hated the Ottomans and how much he hated his time in the Empire, but we also know that history is not always objective and that it can be interpreted in many ways. So the great thing that And I Darken does is to explore the ways in which what we know today may not be as black-and-white as it seems. Of course, this is an alternate history, so it must be taken accordingly, but I think that, as I said before, it can be used to start a conversation.

With all of that said, I desperately need the sequel, because I need to know what happens next with Lada, Radu and Mehmed, as well as all the other minor characters that I simply adored.

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