Genres: Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Alternate History, Young Adult, LGBTQ+
This is a great year for fantasy YA for me. I’m discovering a bunch of books I had heard some blurb about before but hadn’t picked it up because I was for a while all about contemporaries, literary fiction and historical fiction. Do get ready for another review where I swoon a lot. Spoiler alert: And I Darken is awesome.
No one expects a princess to be brutal. And Lada Dragwyla likes it that way.
Ever since she and her brother were abandoned by their father to be raised in the Ottoman sultan’s courts, Lada has known that ruthlessness is the key to survival. For the lineage that makes her and her brother special also makes them targets.
Lada hones her skills as a warrior as she nurtures plans to wreak revenge on the empire that holds her captive. Then she and Radu meet the sultan’s son, Mehmed, and everything changes. Now Mehmed unwittingly stands between Lada and Radu as they transform from siblings to rivals, and the ties of love and loyalty that bind them together are stretched to breaking point.
The first of an epic new trilogy starring the ultimate anti-princess who does not have a gentle heart. Lada knows how to wield a sword, and she’ll stop at nothing to keep herself and her brother alive.
And I Darken tells the story of Vlad Dracula, son of Vlad the Impaler (who may have inspired Bram Stoke’s Dracula), if he had been born a girl and as a legitimate child instead of a bastard. It is loosely based on the historical facts during the Ottoman Empire in the 1400s.
I loved this book so much!
The character construction was really well done, and one of my favorite aspects of the book: Lada and Radu had entirely different personalities and, together, they are unstoppable. She is fierce, violent, cold-hearted. He is cunning, gentle and beautiful. Lada and Radu are kept captive by the Ottoman sultan so that their father, Vlad the Impaler, will keep his promise of peace to him. But they find themselves befriending one of the sultan’s sons, Mehmed, and their lives are entangled together in a way that will challenge all they know about loyalty.
Lada is certainly one of my favorite characters in fiction of all time. She’s naturally inclined to violence, refuses to be tamed and determinedly rebels against what is expected of her. Still, she eventually acknowledges the power a woman who plays the part that is expected of her can have if she plays it well. It’s just not what she was born for. Lada is no fantasy YA princess you’ve seen before.
And I Darken is what it promises: it’s dark, enthralling, gripping, unforgettable. The writing is fantastic and the world building was very realistic. You find yourself immersed in it and cannot come up for air until the book is over. I literally held my breath a lot of times. This is, no doubt, one of my favorite reads of this year.
I have (clearly) enjoyed this book very much and I’m holding back from immediately buying the sequence to binge-read. This was almost 500 pages long, but you barely notice as you devour page after page of this fast-paced novel. The setting was unique, the characters fascinating, the writing very gripping.
Verdict: I recommend And I Darken if you enjoy dark, gory stories and cunning, violent characters. Lada is certainly a very unique characters, even more so for being a YA fantasy protagonist. Each character is very well portrayed and their idiosyncrasies make you root for them, even when they are cruel. Trigger warnings: homophobia, torture, violence, physical and psychological abuse, attempted rape.
YA: young adult