Monday, July 4, 2016

ARC Review: And I Darken by Kiersten White

Series:     Conqueror's Saga #1
Pub. Date:June 28, 2016
Publisher:Delacorte Press
Length:484 pages
Source:NetGalley

This was an unexpected and fascinating retelling of the legend of the Draculesti family, particularly the two youngest children of Vlad II. I'm not sure why its being classified in the fantasy genre so much on Goodreads... I would put it more in the historical fiction category.

The story takes liberties with the Draculesti children, changing the sexes, birth order, and reimaging historical events. The eldest son becomes Mircea, with a daughter Vladislav in the middle, and Radu as the youngest son.  The daughter, Lada (for short) is the main reimagined character... she is to be the female version of Vlad III, who was posthumously deemed Vlad the Impaler. She is a bloodthirsty nationilistic female who sees the land of Wallachia as her mother. She was utterly fascinating!

The story follows Lada and her younger brother, Radu, from infancy through young adulthood. While the vicious bully Mircea, the oldest son, stays behind in Wallachia to rule with Vlad II, Lada and Radu are kept as hostage by Sultan Murad in the Ottoman Empire. The setting in the Ottoman Empire provided for an abundance of court intrigue - the story was juicy with drama, betrayal and scheming plots! I haven't read a story set in Byzantium in so long that I forgot about the abundance of political plots between rulers, brothers, emperors, etc. It makes for a captivating story.

Youngest son Radu had a difficult childhood when compared to his tougher siblings. Radu was soft and wanted to be coddled by his nurse.  However when Radu and Lada were kept in Edirne, he really came into his own. As he aged, he became known as Radu the Handsome. He converts to Islam and becomes very important to Murad and his son, Mehmed.  The story is told in an alternating 3rd person POV between Radu and Lada - so you really get to know both of their characters. I was drawn into Radu's conflicted sexuality, his feelings for Mehmed, and his jealousy for his sister. I was also impressed by the way he worked to protect Mehmed by making himself important in Murad's inner circle.

While I liked Radu, I found Lada to be the more engaging character. She spent her childhood trying to please or be noticed by her father, only to be sacrificed for his throne on more than one occasion. Once she is ensconced in the Ottoman Empire, Lada's life is at risk unless she stays under the Sultan's radar. But Lada is also the ultimate tough chick and she is not going to let any man cow her. Luckily for both her and Radu, Mehmed takes an interest in the siblings and whisks them away with him to Amasya. It is here that Lada really comes into her own. She begins training with the Janissaries to perfect her fighting skills and becomes a political force behind Mehmet attaining the throne at the right time. Lada had her own conflicted feelings to deal with... her desire to be home in Wallachia was contradicted by her feelings for Mehmet. I had a good connection to her character so was able to imagine the conflict Lada felt being a woman in that particular time and in that particular society where sultans kept harems and women really had no power of their own.  

One of the most interesting tidbits I enjoyed in this story was to learn where the "impaling" came from. I don't believe any of the prior Ottoman Empire stories I have read included the aspect of the head gardeners and "planting" of criminals. So I learned a little something as I was reading! 

I would recommend this story to fans of historical fiction or Vlad Tepes, or to anyone who enjoys tales chock full of court intrigue, betrayal and assassination behind powerful historical rulers. I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.