[Friday Flash Review] And I Darken, by Kiersten White

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❧ Title: And I Darken (Conqueror’s Saga #1)
❧ Author: Kiersten White
❧ Publisher: Delacorte Press
❧ Publication date: 28th June 2016
❧ Rating: ✦✦✦✦✦
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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.

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and i darken❝In A Nutshell❞

✎A re-imagining of the story of Vlad the Impaler, actual man-person and not the would-be vampire of myth. In this, his daughter, Lada, is set to rise to the legendary heights of Vlad in his stead, in a historical revisiting of the setting and his rise to power. Lada is a fierce princess with a very soft, handsome and clever brother, Radu. Lada and Radu are sent into the heart of the Ottoman Empire by their father as part of his politicking, when his own influence and position begins to slip. They are essentially hostages to ensure his cooperation.

✎ Lada is not a typical princess. She is a skilled warrior, violent and even vicious, and she refuses to let her home go. She wants the power and position of a man and refuses to play the courtly games her brother is so skilled at, whereas he shies away from battle and war unless absolutely necessary. They are very close as siblings but the relationship can be strained at times. They will defend one another at all costs.

✎Diverse ☒ (race (the majority of the book takes place in the Ottoman empire with only a few characters from outside), queerness, positive depiction of Islam); not #ownvoices.

✎ History and politics and love and war and a thousand things besides.
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❝What I loved❞
✎ Radu is gay. He is gay and he is a main character. Did I mention he’s gay? G A Y. Also, he’s gay.

✎ Lada is terrifying and brilliant and you want her on your team for absolutely anything ever that involves horrible killing and maiming because she will win and also scare you just a little.

✎ A positive, historical(ly accurate- afaik) depiction of Islam.

✎ This book is rich with intrigue and tension and filled with suspense. It is a luscious adventure into the past where the world comes alive in full colour. The level of detail and research was impressive and shone through, showing how much ground work and reading (and visiting!) White must have done. There is a fierceness to the narrative that Lada conveys and it is at times both horrifying and readable, whereas Radu’s gentler wit weaves an almost poetic story alongside his sister’s. The two are a contrast, yet entirely complementary. Radu’s sexuality is treated as a learning of his own self and it is not badly written. There is a lot of truth to Radu’s slow realisation of his feelings for Memed (not a spolier; sorry not sorry) that really shows how carefully his story was approached by a writer who is very obviously not a gay boy!

And I Darken is so gripping it’s impossible to put down. If we’re not being held hostage by the tense narrative of Lada and Radu’s childhood years, we’re kept at the edge of our seats as we’re invited right into the heart of the intrigue of the court as Lada and Radu aim to, at first, survive, and then eventually, to thrive. This was one of my very favourite books of 2016.
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❝If you liked this…❞
…then you might also like: I don’t read much historical fiction so I genuinely have no idea? Maybe possibly, for “history with a twist” (which is the closest I can come), check out Anne Lyle’s Alchemist of Souls books. They’re not YA, but they rep queer MCs and I enjoyed entering a slightly-alternative Elizabethan England when I read them way back.