Release date: June 28, 2016
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, who’s expected to rule a nation, 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.
A retold history of Vlad Dracul III, And I Darken is the story of Lada, a princess born to a weak prince, who loves her motherland with a fervour and Radu, her younger brother who is the gentle prince everyone ignored. Lada, though being born a girl was determined from the start to not let it hinder her life. She was a vicious little thing right from her childhood, constantly getting into brawls and proving that she is the rightful daughter of a dragon. The first half of the book details the events until they come to 13 years of age, with their father betraying them, them being held as collateral at the Ottoman courts, and finding a new friend and a life there. The second half, taking place three years later, goes on about how they manipulate the strings of power for Mehmed, their friend, and lead him to his throne.
Lada’s story deals with her rising to power from a situation of powerlessness. She is fierce, strong-willed, hard-headed and proud of her land. Throughout her childhood, she instills a healthy fear of herself in the kids around her – a way to control power when she has none. On the flip side, her younger brother Radu is constantly bullied and is often saved by her. Their relationship is troubled – she resents and loves him at the same time, while he clutches to her but also fears her. When transported to the foreign court,he hates the Sultan for taking away everything she held dear, particularly her home, while he rejoices in a new belonging. He embraces Islam, and finds peace in it, and their friendship with Mehmed settles them both for a while. They both have their ways of dealing with the people in the courts, skills that come to use later on in the convoluted mass of events that is the second half.
Now, love has awakened in this trio, and with it comes a shift in feelings, relationships and priorities. Mehmed is the heir, and with it come duties – duties which Lada never wants to be a part of. She rejects her femininity at every turn, because she has been raised to believe that being a woman gives her a disadvantage. However, through various women in the books, she learns the true meaning of power, and how to attain it. It is the core theme of the book – power and the lengths one would go to for attaining or keeping it. Radu seeks power for Mehmed’s behalf, and his love for the him always takes precedence to every other consideration. Lada considers love a thing that would be used against her, and amasses her power to gain what she wants. The siblings are united as well as divided by their love for Mehmed, and if you know the history, you know how it will divide them in the end. For his part, I think Mehmed was quite weak in character, making me wonder what exactly these two see in him.
The writing of the book is spectacular, words flowing from chapter to chapter, from character to character. Lada’s brilliance and sass (my god, I loved her sass) shines through, as well as Radu’s gentle soul and cunning nature. There is a certain amount of ruthlessness contained in both, and as their hands are stained with blood, comes even more certainty that the book title is so apt. The plot of the book was also contained in so many different threads, lending a good deal of complexity to the story even when confined to two character POVs. There is political intrigue, as well as grey shades all over – each person is fighting for something they believe in, and you can’t fault them for it. While I got into the story expecting to only love Lada and see another vicious anti-hero queen rise, I came to love Radu as well, feeling for him and his despair over always being the one looked over. Overall, it is a great start to the series and a book I would really recommend!
Received free galley from Corgi Childrens’ as well as Delacorte Press, via Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.