And I Darken
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.
“Her spine was steel. Her heart was armor. Her eyes were fire.”
― Kiersten White, And I Darken
……..and that is how it ends. Lada Dragwlya, fearsome daughter of Vlad Dracul, leader of Wallachia.
First of all, let me start off by telling you how beautifully rich this author was able to paint the landscapes and settings of Wallachia and the Ottoman Empire. The descriptions of the palaces with courtyards and pavilions, lush blooming gardens, beautiful gates, colorful bazaars, the haram and the hamam transport the reader right into the deep ancient orient.
This is a very intricately woven, well thought out novel in structure and plot. The author does not shy from addressing societal norms and issues, religious viewpoints, political conflicts and strategies, feminism or sexual orientation. They are layered within the theme without overshadowing the storyline.
Lada Dragwlya enters the world strong and healthy, much to Vlads’ dismay. His wife bore him a daughter, and she is a feisty, independent and curious one. The child he will have next is the son he so hoped for. Radu, born smaller and more fragile, he clings to his nanny well beyond his toddler age. The first few years, the children enjoy their freedom and upbringing in Wallachia among their quarters, bustling market streets and the beautiful countryside.
Vlad is often gone, but Lada adores her father. She loves her Walachia too…feels it in her heart and veins. It is her place, her life and she is deeply rooted. Radu on the other hand finds solace in poetry and learning. He often falls short to Lada’s physical strengths and won’t step out of her shadow until way later in his life. He could care less where he lived.
One day, Vlad takes the children to the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire to bargain his loyalty. His children turn into collateral and they are forced to obey the Ottoman court and be educated in their ways. This creates a lot of angst, resentment and hatred towards their father. How will they be anything more then what they are?
Mehmed, the sultans’ son, befriends them out of curiosity. They form a bond of trust over the next few years that makes life bearable. But there are many unanswered questions. Rada takes fast to the new ways of his life. He enjoys the library at the palace and the daily prayers. He gains in spiritual strengths and learns to understand his role, his place. Lada is not at home however. She has to become resourceful using different strategies and tactics to mend her surroundings to her will and liking. She is determined to reach one goal…to show the world, she can be a ruler!
“And so she cut out her heart and offered it as a sacrifice. She would pay whatever price her mother Wallachia demanded.
“Make me prince,” she said without feeling.”
― Kiersten White, And I Darken
I found the measure of underlying themes in this novel well-crafted and executed. There were unrequited love interests and betrayals that seamlessly worked in this novel that I had not mentioned yet above. Nothing too much, but also never expected. There were twists and battles strategically placed and I think it praiseworthy how well this novel was imagined and written. We shall see how this saga continues!