Published by Random House Children's Books on June 28th 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Young Adult
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.
From New York Times bestselling author Kiersten White comes the first book in a dark, sweeping new series in which heads will roll, bodies will be impaled . . . and hearts will be broken.
“So the question becomes, Daughter of the Dragon, what will you sacrifice? What will you let be taken away so that you, too, can have power?”
4 1/2 stars. This book is totally fucked up. In the best possible way.
Well, holy shit. Even with the positive reviews rolling in, that was completely unexpected. How do I begin to explain this vicious little nightmare of a book? All I know is: it’s different to anything else I’ve read.
And I Darken is dark, gritty and compelling. It pulled me into its darkness from the very first chapter and I didn’t come up for air until I’d finished all 496 pages of it. It’s the kind of book that is everything that hooks you, fuelling your rage and your desperate need to turn the page, whilst also being a well-written, highly-original story.
“Fantasy” is a loose term for this book. You won’t find any Throne of Glass-esque heroines or magic here. It’s more alternate history, set in Transylvania at the height of the Ottoman Empire (based on history, though not historically accurate), and richer, more political than typical YA fantasy. And much nastier.
As the baby latched on with surprising fierceness, the nurse offered her own prayer.
Let her be strong.
Let her be sly.
And let her be ugly.
Lada is a freaking fantastic, psychotic heroine. She is not one of those faux-antiheroines who proclaim their badassery and never do anything other than defeat the bad guys and fall in love. From the moment she is born, she is fierce, resilient and a little bit nuts. As she grows, she becomes ever more cold, cruel and calculating. She quickly recognizes what it means to be a woman in this world and she is not playing along.
“On our wedding night,” she said, “I will cut out your tongue and swallow it. Then both tongues that spoke our marriage vows will belong to me, and I will be wed only to myself. You will most likely choke to death on your own blood, which will be unfortunate, but I will be both husband and wife and therefore not a widow to be pitied.”
In fact, she’s furious. And I Darken explores Lada’s disdain for women and her own confused feelings over whether she should deny or defend her femininity. But don’t worry, this is paired with the revelation that there are many kinds of power and women have their own ways of wielding it, biding their time and eventually getting what they want.
However, though she is fascinating, the book isn’t just about Lada. The third person narrative is also about the experiences of her brother – Radu, a beautiful, delicate boy whose weakness both aggravates Lada and draws her protection. They have a complex sibling relationship, once again quite unlike anything we usually see in YA, and it is filled with frustration, jealousy and misunderstanding.
A few other things:
1) I absolutely loved this unconventional setting in Eastern Europe. It’s so rare to see novels set here and I thought the author captured it perfectly.
2) I liked how the novel explored different religions and a lack of religion in a way that wasn’t preachy – also very refreshing to see a non-judgmental portrayal of Islam.
3) There is no love triangle. There is a complex web of relationships that is guaranteed to get messy, but it is not a love triangle (at least not yet). I thought you might want to know because there are some LT signs early on.
I loved this book. I really did. It’s a gory, horrible trek into a place inspired by gory, historical truth. Everything is intricately-woven in perfect detail, from the setting to the characters, and from the relationships to the politics. It is unlike anything Kiersten White has written before. And it is virtually unputdownable.
It’s about power, and all the ways it can be gained and used. It’s about women, and what it means to be a woman. And it’s about fighting, every day, to be what you want.
“The sooner you stop fighting, the easier your life will be. This is what your purpose is.”
Lada stood so abruptly she nearly fell backward. “No.”