Rating: 4 stars
Genre: Historical Fiction, Young Adult, Fantasy, Romance
“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?”
A gem of a book.
It was savage and brilliant, a bloody tale of politics laced with tainted relationships, betrayals and desire. For freedom, for power, for human touch. For greatness.
In And I Darken, Kiersten White travels through time to medieval Wallachia, a vassal state of the blooming Ottoman Empire. To the court of Vlad Dracul, the cruel father that terrified his son, and mesmerized his daughter. Until he gave them away to the Sultan in order to secure his reign, and left them among foes ready to devour them. Lada was always ferocious. Refusing to forget her country, despite her traitorous father, determined to set it free from Ottoman rule, from any oppressor. Radu was always tame. Afraid but socially skilled, he could entrance anyone to do his bidding. Their relationship was not an easy one, but it got more complicated when they met and befriended Mehmed, the Sultan's third son. For them he was an ally. Their only ally. For him they were his honest friends, whom he trusted unconditionally. What happens though when love collides with duty? With ambition? With loyalty? And what is the cost of ultimate power?
“I love Wallachia. It belongs to me, and I belong to it. It is my country, and it should always be mine, and I hate any king or sultan or god or prophet that proclaims anyone else has any right to it.”
If there is one lesson to be learned from And I Darken, is that History is a matter of perspective. The hero of a nation is the bane of another. The greatest victory of one army, painted with the most glorious colours, is the most somber memory of the defeated. We are aware of great events that took place centuries before our time, but we fail to wonder about the men behind them, the person behind the leader. Which were his motivations? How passionate was he about his goals? What was the source of them? It was with a heavy heart that I realized halfway through the book that Mehmed was not just a Mehmed. He was the Mehmed. Mehmed II the Conqueror. The man that conquered my country and sentenced it to nearly 400 years of slavery. You can understand why I was at least prejudiced against him. But what astonished me was that throughout the story, even though his character had many weaknesses and I wasn't exactly fond of him, I came to begrudgingly admire his dedication, his cunning and sharp mind and that was the result of Kiersten White's writing. She was objective. She painted with deadly accuracy the good and the bad, without taking sides. She didn't promote Wallachia or Ottoman Empire. She took events and people who actually existed and walked this earth and infused the dry stories left by historians with life, passion, with tragedies and cruelty that made your body feel like a live wire, humming with energy and tension, desperate to unleash them. Through lush descriptions, luxury to the extent of extravagance, religious quests, customs that may disorientate your moral compass and constant plots, she crafted a world gritty yet foreign. She did not romanticise war and court intrigue. She was an experienced guide to the barracks of the Janisaries, the harems and the mosques, the schemes, the rise and fall of empires, and to the paths Lada, Radu and Mehmed followed. Paths where, as you crossed them, the light was slowly diminishing until you were left alone in the dark.
“Her spine was steel. Her heart was armor. Her eyes were fire.”
Lada. Radu. Mehmed.
A toxic triangle, a poisonous threesome bound by love, lust and yearning. In a way, they broke and reshaped each other. Lada was an extraordinary character. By changing Vlad the Impaler to Lada the Impaler, the author created a mean, ruthless and passionate figure, fixed on finding a place in the wolrd meant only for her, without depending on the graces of a man, whoever that man might be. She was the Daugher of the Dragon. The Daughter of Wallachia. A living and breathing menace, torn between her burning desire to return to her Mother, to liberate her Mother, and her complicated feelings for Radu and Mehmed. While Lada was sharp as steel, Radu was soft and pleasant. He held his sister accountable for many of his misfortunes, he was jealous of her and intimidated at the same time, but he found a way to rise. To use his talents. For Mehmed. The bright star that blinded both siblings. Guided by the belief that he was chosen to do the unthinkable, to conquer Constantinople, he had little regard for the lives that would be lost. The three of them committed terrible crimes. They betrayed each other, and kept facing the same questions, without being able to answer; Is one life worth less than a thousand? Is heartbreak sanctioned in order to protect the ones you love? What is the ultimate sacrifice they would make for the accomplishment of everything they'd ever wanted?
“Souls and thrones are irreconcilable.”
And I Darken's main pillars are politics and power. Having that in mind, you will bear witness to devastating choices, to a plethora of plots and bloodshed of those getting in the way. Kiersten White won't encourage you to pick a side, though. That is your choice and your choice alone. You will wobble, curse, cry out of frustration and then wobble some more. In the end, it doesn't matter what (or whom) you choose. All that matters is that you will feel an odd kinship with these damaged characters. You will experience the clash of religions, of dreams and calls and ambitions. And you will feel yourself darken in the process.
“And so she cut out her heart and offered it as a sacrifice. She would pay whatever price her mother Wallachia demanded.”