From the Back Cover:
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, who’s expected to rule a nation, 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.
From New York Times bestselling author Kiersten White comes the first book in a dark, sweeping new series in which heads will roll, bodies will be impaled . . . and hearts will be broken.
As soon as I saw the description of this book, I had to have it. It turned out to be nothing like I was expecting. And boy, was I impressed. Written like it flowed from the pen of one of my favorite historical fiction novelists, this is the tale of a young Vlad the Impaler, but with one major twist: Vlad's a girl. The back cover blurb actually does a really good job of summing up the plot, so I will skip the detailed recap and tell you what I loved about it.
This is the story of Lada, a girl in a man's world, a brutal world of conquerors and the conquered, a world where women are little more than heir-producing ornaments. But emboldened by her father's admiration for her fierceness, she dares to envision a different future for herself, one where she rules her beloved Wallachia. But it's also the story of her little brother, Radu. The son of a warrior who would rather be a scholar. A dreamer. A boy overshadowed by his savage sister. Theirs is a complicated relationship. But when their father sends them to the Ottoman Empire court as hostages to ensure his good behavior and then defaults on his promises, their relationship becomes one of ensuring mutual survival. Enter the sultan's son, Mehmed, and the ties that bind become both lifelines and cages. Thrust into the center of power, intrigue, and war, all three come of age knowing what is expected of them but daring to hope for something different. When opportunities arise and are seized, betrayal, heartbreak, and bittersweet triumph result.
Having read White's first novel, Paranormalcy, I was skeptical of her ability to pull this concept off convincingly. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed Paranormalcy. It's sassy and fun, but it's also a bit of fluff compared to historical fiction. But I was quickly convinced of her skills. White's research shows in her attention to detail and in her ability to take a brutal and bloodthirsty era in history and pare it down to basic human nature and instinct, something we can all understand, even if we can't imagine making those choices ourselves. The description is lush, the characterization excellent. Lada is one of the more unique heroines I've come across in young adult fiction. She is unapologetically who she is. Tough as nails, conniving, demanding, unforgiving, yet achingly vulnerable. And Radu was a pleasant surprise. I was not expecting to love him as much as I did. He is everything that Lada is not—something that Lada both hates and admires—and the dichotomy between them and their alternating viewpoints is brilliant. The tangled web of vassal states and rival warlords and their relationship with their Ottoman master makes for one heck of a backdrop. Not to mention the breathtaking scenery that is the actual backdrop of this region and this story.
Some of my adoration wore off as a love triangle developed, which I thought rather unnecessary. They already had extremely complicated and nuanced relationships without making it a romantic triangle. But Lada is not the kind of girl to let emotions—or any man—deter her from her ultimate goal, so I don't think that will come into play much in the second book. I have seen some reviewers lament that the story moves too slowly, and perhaps for some young adult readers not accustomed to historical fiction, it may take a while to get into. They may also be uncomfortable with some of the accurate historical depictions. It is a bit of a slow burn in the beginning as White takes the time to acclimate the reader with this world and the players in it, but I was hooked from page one and savored the ride. And I Darken is one of my favorite reads of 2016 so far, and I am anxiously awaiting the sequel and Lada's hard-fought rise to power.
My Rating: 4.5 Stars out of 5
**Please Note: This review references an advance digital copy received from the publisher via NetGalley, and therefore the final published copy may differ. Though I received this book from the publisher, these are my honest and unbiased thoughts, and I was not compensated in any other way for reviewing this book.