And I Darken by Kiersten White
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
**Disclaimer: copy received from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review**
And I Darken is the first in a new trilogy by Kiersten White, whose Paranormalcy I have previously read and enjoyed, but just didn’t carry on with. It follows Lada Dracul, the gender-swapped version of Vlad the Impaler. Pretty awesome, right?
I loved the concept of this novel from the outset, and knew I just had to read it. I love Dracula, and I love alternate histories.
The novel begins with Lada’s birth and childhood, which I really enjoyed seeing – we rarely see the background of a character, and this beginning felt very different. We’re dropped into Wallachia, gaining an insight into the upbringing of Lada and her younger brother, Radu, from whose perspective the story is also told. Lada is boistrous and violent, whilst Radu is quiet and timid, and these were fun roles to explore.
We slowly see Lada and Radu grow up, and soon they are traded and betrayed by their father to the Sultan, whose son, Mehmed, they soon grow close too. I actually really liked the character of Mehmed, who struggles with politics and power. The only problem with Mehmed is that everyone and their dog appears to be in love with him. The romance between Mehmed and Lada is interesting, simply because she struggles with wanting to be her own woman, and also with jealousy of Mehmed’s wives and concubines, which I thought brought an original and refreshing twist on a typical romance. She also rebuffs his advances which I liked – many girls in YA simply fall for the handsome prince when he dares to look their way.
My problem with Lada is the same problem I had with Celaena Sardothien in the first Throne of Glass novel – for a character advertised as cutthroat, murderous and ravenous for blood, she doesn’t do much killing. In fact, she’s left behind while the men go off to fight, and she never kills except for in self defence. I think there’s a hesitation with authors to write a character, and especially a female character, who actually is a bit evil, and does actual killing without remorse. Lada really did show promise at the beginning of the novel, but she just didn’t live up to her promise.
Another problem I had – and this is perhaps my own fault – is there were so many characters in this, and I forgot who they were and what had happened previously to them. I did put this book down about 1/3 of the way through in early June and pick it back up to finish it a few weeks later, but some of the characters just weren’t memorable, and then became important. I loved almost all of the female characters, but I just became confused about who a lot of the male characters were and when they had been introduced.
What this book really needs at the beginning is a map and a timeline – I got confused when time skipped ahead quickly, and had no idea what year it was or how old the characters were, although this would have been easier with a real life copy of the book.
What ultimately led me to give this book 3.5 stars was the voice – this book is written in third person limited, and so we don’t really get to see the feelings and motivations of the characters, and I felt a bit disconnected from them.
This book did however inspire me – I really want to see more alternate (or not) historical fiction, especially in unusual time periods and locations like this one. It genuinely is an original book, and I’d love to see more books like this on the market. I also really appreciated the inclusion of religion in this book – it’s a topic often shied away from, and it certainly wasn’t here.
Overall, a really refreshing read with an original concept, but that fell a little short of excellent.