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Sunday, August 7, 2016

"And I Darken: The Conquerors Saga #1" by Kiersten White (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)

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OVERVIEW: 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.

FORMAT: And I Darken is the first book in a new YA alternative historical fiction. The novel takes place between 1435 and 1146 (give or take a few years) and Ottoman Empire. Instead of a male Vlad the Impaler, we have Lada the Impaler.

And I Darken stands at 475 pages and is told from the points of view of Lada and Radu. It was published on June 28, 2016 by Delacorte Press.

ANALYSIS: Originally, I was attracted to And I Darken because it was being promoted as a new dark YA fantasy series that takes place during a time period that is often overlooked when it comes to YA literature. Alas, things aren't always what they seem.

And I Darken isn't fantasy in the typical magic, epic fantasy genre and this is where I feel there is the potential for disappointment. And I Darken is historical fiction, but an alternate version of it. Instead of having Vlad the Impaler be male, we are given an alternate universe where it is Lada the Impaler – a female.

The fact And I Darken is historical fiction isn't bad, but it was a bit deceptive to refer to it as a strict fantasy series. At one point there was a comparison to Game of Thrones, which this is far from GoT. It has royal politics and conspiracy theories, but there is very little to compare it to as it is strictly alternate historical fiction.

Once my disappointment that this wasn't a fantasy book was overcome, I was able to fully immerse myself in the book and enjoy the story.

There are a lot of things to enjoy about And I Darken. It is gritty (one of the grittier YA novels out there at the moment), the setting is unique, a strong intriguing female lead, and strong writing. Unfortunately, for every strength with the novel there is a weakness that draws it back.

The writing in And I Darken is strong. It is detailed and you can tell just how much research, time and effort went into it on the part of Kiersten White. But strong writing doesn't make up for the extremely sluggish pace of the novel.

I easily read 40-50% of the book and was surprised by how little actually happened. A lot of time is spent on developing the land, explaining political standpoints, talking about conspiracies, and debating what should and shouldn't happen. This just weighed the book down because it was all take and very little action.

The pacing of the novel was a huge issue and then came the dreaded love triangle. Our main character Lada is falling for Mehmed, the future sultan. At the same time Lada's brother is developing strong feeling for Mehmed too.

Once the love triangle aspect was introduced, the characters in the novel became obsessed with Mehmed. Every chapter – though it felt like every page - was filled with longing and one of the characters (either Lada or Radu) obsessing over Mehmed.

Before the huge fight between the siblings over Mehmed, the two would literally gather together to obsess over what Mehmed was doing, where he was, what he was thinking. Once the siblings had a falling out and they were much older, it was just separate chapters of Mehmed obsession.

I understand the point of developing a love interest, but it felt excessive. There was so much more going on in the book that could have been developed, but we were stuck with Mehmed, Mehmed, Mehmed.

Another issue I struggled with while reading And I Darken was character attachment. When I first started reading, I thought I might be able to really enjoy reading about Lada. While she wasn't overly likeable, she was someone I thought I'd really become attached to and want to follow her story. That was until the story kept continuing.

Lada, while described as this horrible, brutal person, wasn't really all that brutal or all that ruthless. Her kill count was extremely low – maybe 4 and each one was done to save someone else. For most of the book, Lada whined about her position, claimed she had no power to do anything, and walked around looking for others to pity her while saying she didn't want pity. She never really took charge and did anything, just sort of went with the flow. It was extremely disappointing.

The other characters just fell flat. The only one who came close to being interesting, for me, was Mehmed and that was only because everyone seemed so obsessed with him and I kept trying to figure out why. He also had a mysterious vibe to him, which made him interesting.  

There is one part of the novel that needs to be brought up, as it could be a huge issue for some readers. Due to the time period this novel took place and the geographical setting, there is considerable time spent in the novel talking about Islam as one of the main characters – Radu – goes through a religious journey that involves converting to Islam.

The entire book isn't a religious textbook, but there are a lot more details than most novels provide. It didn't bother me too much, but the considerable amount of time devoted to religion and debating about religion (even Christianity) could definitely prove problematic to some readers.

While it might seem like I didn't enjoy And I Darken that wasn't really the case. I was a bit indifferent to it. It was a strong book and I really enjoyed the political aspect of it, but the brooding, love triangles, and constant self-pity attitude of Lada got to be too much.

Overall, And I Darken is a great book if you are looking for a grittier YA historical fiction novel about a time/period that isn't always covered. If you like political intrigue and the whole behind the scenes whispering and plotting that occurs with politics, and of course if you are okay with a love triangle and teenage puppy love/obsession then this is the book for you. If you want action/adventure and a fast paced book, this might not be the book for you.

I will probably stick around for the second book, as I found the writing solid and I enjoyed the unique setting. It wasn't a favorite book of mine, but the experience wasn't unpleasant. I think for most people And I Darken is going to be a book you either love or hate, and there will be very few 'middle roaders'.


Melissa (My words and pages) said...

Hmm. Sounds like interesting. I would have been bummed going in thinking fantasy too. But sounds like it's good in it's own way. Thank you!

Cindy said...

Yes. I understand why publishers and marketing people advertise things a certain way but if a book is no where near it, it shouldn't be done. I don't think they realize how badly it can destroy a peron's experience with the book.

There is some debate about whether alternative historical fiction is fantasy or historical fiction. So I guess its murky waters there, but still... saying fantasy makes me think magic and dragons and magical creatures.


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