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Title: And I Darken (The Conquerors Saga #1)
Author: Kiersten White
Publication Date: June 28th, 2016
Synopsis: 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.
Review: When I first heard about the premise behind And I Darken - Vlad the Impaler, but a female - I knew I had to read this book. I've enjoyed the other books by Kiersten White that I've read, so I had pretty high expectations going into this one. Kiersten delivered a thrilling story, filled with fantastic world-building, excellent character development, and relationships of every type. It was so hard for me to put this book down, and it left me with a ridiculous book hangover when it was over!
I am not a huge history buff. I usually know enough to get by, but I still enjoy a good story set in a real time and place. Although the Ottoman Empire and Wallachia are pretty well established settings, Kiersten puts her own touch on things and makes it feel like these places were created just for Lada, Radu, and Mehmed. I loved seeing the world through their eyes, and getting to know them through how they interacted and felt about the people and cultures of these vastly different places. There were many times when I felt like I was actually there, lying under the stars with Lada and Radu, or riding through the countryside with them. I experienced the Ottoman courts with them and it was really interesting to see it from two differing opinions (Lada despises the Ottomans, but Radu considers it more like home than Wallachia).
Lada and Radu are such very different characters, and I couldn't help but love them both. Lada is harsh and ruthless, and will do whatever it takes to protect her family and her country. She is not a heroine, but neither is she a villain. She's just doing what she feels is necessary to survive. When she cares about someone or something, she loves passionately. Things are very black and white for her, and there is no gray zone. Radu, on the other hand, is more lover than fighter. He's soft-spoken and would rather use his intelligence to win a war than to go in and fight his way to the top with a sword. He is also very passionate, but tends to have a better handle on his feelings than Lada. Their relationship is very volatile and I really enjoyed watching it develop over the course of the book. They both sacrifice so much for each other, and I hope we get to see more of their relationship in the next book.
Then there's Mehmed. Both Lada and Radu care deeply for Mehmed, but neither of them really have a very healthy relationship with him. He's a wonderful friend to them in their biggest time of need, and he helps Radu to become more comfortable with himself and his new home, and breaks through Lada's tough shell and gives her something to direct her incredible passion towards. As the son of the sultan though, his life is complicated and he inevitably ends up hurting both Lada and Radu without ever meaning to. The complex triangle between them is always shifting and changing, and left me wondering how things were going to work out (if they ever would).
There are several jumps in time, but they're not really sudden and make sense when they occur. It also helps the plot move along at a good pace, since we skip over the years/months/days when nothing of significance occurs.I thought that the pacing of the book was pretty decent most of the way through, although there were a few parts in the middle that felt like they dragged a little bit. Although most of the plot points wrap up by the end of this book, I could definitely see how there could be room for a sequel, and I hope we get to see much more of Lada, Radu, and Mehmed!
Overall, I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a dark, genderbent, historical fiction with fantastic characters and even better world-building. There are also some fantasy elements to the book, which is part of what drew me to it and kept me hooked. This is definitely my favorite Kiersten White book that I've read so far, and I will definitely be looking forward to the next one! 4/5.