And I Darken

February 8, 2018
And I Darken Book Cover And I Darken
The Conqueror's Saga, #1
Kiersten White
Historical Fiction
Random House Listening Library
June 28th, 2016
Library - OverDrive
Fiona Hardingham

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.

(via Goodreads)


I will admit, when I started this book I felt quite conflicted. I love me some historical fiction. But, a gender-swapped retelling of Vlad the Impaler’s life? Vlad Dracula, for those unfamiliar, was the ruler of Wallachia (now Romania) in the mid-1400’s at three different times. It was a time of great political and religious turmoil in eastern Europe. Vlad Dracula is known famously for impaling his enemies of stakes and leaving them to suffer a slow and painful death. Yes, Dracula. The same man rumored to be the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

If you know me, you I don’t like violence. I don’t like gore. But I was piqued to read about such a strong character represented as a woman. I struggled with a few other things in the beginning, but in the end, White brought me around with And I Darken. I adore Ladislav “Lada” Dragwula and her story.

Her spine was steel. Her heart was armor. Her eyes were fire.

And I Darken covers the life of Lada and Radu Dracul from their birth to around age 16-18; Radu being the real-life younger brother of Vlad.  Lada doesn’t want to be married off to gain her terrible father more power and glory. She quickly becomes vicious, focusing on learning all she can about the world and how to fight. Unfortunately, she and Radu are traded to the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire as collateral to ensure their father, Prince of Wallachia, does not betray the Ottomans. They grow up mostly forgotten in the palace of the Sultan and come to befriend his youngest, and least important, son, Mehmed II. We get to watch the growth of the Ottomans as these three develop a deep friendship during one of the most tumultuous times in history.

“I think of you list a sister,” he said. “Like a billiant, violent, occasionally terrifying sister that I would follow to the end of the earth, in part because I respected her so much and in part because I feared what she would do to me if I refused.”
She nodded. “I would do awful things.”

First, let me get out of the way that I have incredibly mixed feelings about the first third of this novel. While I am intrigued with the true start to Lada and Radu’s lives, the pacing felt wrong. It took me a while to get into the storyline, even though I was intrigued by both the Dragwula siblings. I strongly believe part of this had to do with me listening to the audiobook. While Fiona Hardingham is a decent narrator, she is the only narrator for this text. And I Darken alternates between Lada and Radu’s perspectives; I would very much have benefitted from a second, male, narrator! Their perspectives don’t consistently change at the chapter beginnings, they often change during the chapters, so I didn’t always pick up on the narration change. Hardingham did little to change her tone when other characters were speaking, as well.

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?

After a few hours of listening, I did get used to Hardingham’s narration, though I never solidly figured out when narrative voices changed. That said, I don’t put this entirely on Hardingham as the narrator. In the beginning, it’s obvious that White is still solidifying the difference between Lada and Radu’s narrative voices. Over time, it got easier and easier to differentiate between them. Particularly as the two grow up and become more individual.

If Lada was the spiky green weed that sprouted in the midst of a drought-cracked riverbed, Radu was the delicate, sweet rose that wilted in anything less than perfect conditions. 

These characters are brilliant. Lada and Radu are true foils to each other. Strong, powerful, angry, unapologetic Lada coupled with kind, passionate, spiritual, cunning Radu. Their relationship is more complicated than it has any right to be, and I ADORE that aspect. This is heightened to the reader by being exposed to both Lada and Radu’s internal monologue when we switch narrators. It’s heart-breaking to watch both siblings make decisions they believe are best for the other. Both siblings love each other dearly, and often their way to show love in the cut-throat world of the Turkish court is a survival mechanism which will challenge the familial bonds they have. Being so different from each other they also struggle to communicate well together. They are the epitome of a love-hate sibling relationship. White’s writing of Lada and Radu’s perspectives are so complicated and perfect. One Mehmed is thrown into the mix… well, let’s just say that if you love character studies, this is a book for you to pick up.

Belief if not weakness. Faith is the greatest strength we can have.

The setting, eastern Europe in the 1400s, is a complicated one. Politics and religion reign supreme. It’s obvious that White did her research when it comes to this story. I only knew a little about Vlad the Impaler before picking up And I Darken. Once I was a few dozen pages in, I knew I needed to learn more. Let me just tell you: White barely scratches the surface of the complex Ottoman Empire politics Lada and Radu are embroiled within. Much of the complex machinations of politics and religion are subtle in this novel. However, as Radu discovers a passion for Islam and Mehmed II finally ascends the throne both these topics become more overt. Suddenly, Lada and Radu are thrust into court life. Where Radu’s soft-spoken and amiable nature lends itself well to court intrigues, Lada pursues her passion for violence and conquest by training Mehmed’s personal guards.

But there are many ways to be powerful. There is a power in stillness. There is a power in watching, waiting, saying the right thing at the right time to the right person. There is power in being a woman — oh yes, power in these bodies you aze upon with derision.

White’s pacing has been criticized as too slow throughout the novel, but I disagree. Yes, the start was a bit of a challenge. But, with the complex nature of politics and religion, the pacing felt perfect for me once I got into it. Before Lada and Radu are embroiled in the Ottoman’s court directly, they are merely trying to figure out who they are as “prisoners” in the Ottoman Court. Growing up is hard enough when you are a teenager. It’s worse when you are the children of a rebellious Voivode of a Christian nation who are being raised by the enemy’s Islamic court as collateral so your father doesn’t betray a treaty. Which, obviously, he does. Watching Lada and Radu come into their own and make their own place in this court takes time.

They are less than mud. You do not get angry at the mud for clinging to your shoe. You wipe it off and never look at it again.

I think the pacing is absolutely perfect. Once Lada and Radu find their place, the pacing increases overall, yes. But still, life isn’t a constant stream of action-packed events! Between historical moments, there is downtime. Precious, beautiful downtime where we get to explore the inner-workings of both Dragwula siblings. Through these slower moments I see life more accurately reflected. Plus, it’s obvious to me that White will be separating these seemingly inseparable siblings in future novels, so these moments are critical now.

“On our wedding night,” she said, ” I will cut out your tongue and swallow it. Then both tongues that spoke our marriage vows will belong to me, and I will be wed only to myself. You will most likely choke to death on your own blood, which will be unfortunately, but I will be both husband and wife and therefore not a widow to be pitied.”

I really enjoyed reading And I Darken but it can be quite intense. Lada isn’t just violent. She’s cruel, cold-hearted, vicious, and perhaps a little crazy. Knowing the history of Vlad the Impaler, I am a bit anxious to see where this story goes. It’s hard to imagine Lada turning into this violent mad woman. But, then again, isn’t that the point? I will certainly be continuing this series in the future. However, I’ll give myself some breathing room before picking up the next book. It’s a lot to take in from a single novel and I have a feeling Now I Rise will be even more intense.  Regardless, I highly recommend this novel to anyone who loves history or character studies. It’s brilliant.

What do you think?

  • Have you read And I Darken? What are your thoughts on the novel?
  • I couldn’t choose from all the great quotes in this book. Which are your favorites?
  • What other gender-swapped retellings do you recommend? Which ones should we avoid?
  • Do you enjoy historical fiction? What are some of your favorite historical fiction novels?


  • Shouni February 8, 2018 at 1:20 pm

    I LOVE this book and I’m so happy you did too! The audio book narration does seem bothersome but I’m glad you got used to it after a while. Lada and Radu’s complex relationship is what made And I Darken so memorable for me. Especially the fact that Lada tries to protect Radu as much as she can but he just doesn’t seem to get it. And yes, the violence can be too much for someone who isn’t a fan of violence. Now I can’t wait until you read Now I Rise because I need to know your thoughts on their development.

    • Jackie B February 11, 2018 at 12:15 am

      THANK YOU, Shouni! You are totally one of the major reasons I picked this book up when I needed a new audiobook and it was available now. I loved reading your review.

      I love how often Lada and Radu keep missing each other’s positive intentions. I hope that they can work some of this out, but, well, knowing what I know of history it will be a bumpy road. Now I Rise is on hold at the library. I hope it comes in soon!

      • Shouni February 12, 2018 at 10:19 am

        Oh my gosh thank you!!! It’s always awesome when my reviews actually encourage people to read a book! ❤❤ Oh it’ll be a bumpy road all right I can’t wait till you read the second one!

  • Kourtni @ Kourtni Reads February 8, 2018 at 2:04 pm

    This review makes me want to pick this up so badly, haha. I have it on my Kindle, so maybe it’s time for me to finally read it! It really seems like a fantastic and intriguing character-driven novel. 🙂

    • Jackie B February 11, 2018 at 12:11 am

      You should totally read it, Kourtni! I think you’d really enjoy the depth and dimension of these characters. My review barely talks about Mehmet, but he is really fascinating as well. There are a lot of interesting aspects of 1400’s Turkish and Islamic culture which his character brings to the story. Honestly, Mehmet is the real reason we have this whole story… but, well, you’ll need to read it to learn more. 😀

      • Kourtni @ Kourtni Reads February 11, 2018 at 9:47 am

        I’m definitely going to read it at some point – just need to make time for it!!

  • Helen Murdoch February 8, 2018 at 11:03 pm

    I visited Vlad’s castle when I was in Romania. It’s pretty darn cool and interesting!

    • Jackie B February 9, 2018 at 1:33 pm

      That’s AWESOME! Did you take a tour with a guide? I love learning all about the history on guided tours when I travel. It’s always worth the extra expense!

  • Grab the Lapels February 10, 2018 at 1:27 pm

    If the brother and sister are so different, each person’s tone should be obviously different within a sentence or two, in my opinion. Otherwise, the author suggests she’s not sure how these opposite personalities think and how to capture that.

    • Jackie B February 10, 2018 at 11:38 pm

      I completely agree with you. By the end of the book it becomes more clear. It’s hard to say if this is intentional character development or purely writing improving over time. I will definitely keep reading the series to see if this improves, however.

  • LizScanlon February 11, 2018 at 9:34 am

    I haven’t read this book yet… I didn’t really plan to either until I recently read Danielle’s review for it and instantly changed my mind 🙂 And seeing that you quite enjoyed this one yourself, well, it will have to make it into my reading list this year! 🙂 Great review and great quotes- Lada sounds like a character I will like! 🙂

  • Chiara @ Books for a Delicate Eternity February 11, 2018 at 11:08 pm

    YAY, I’m so glad you liked this one, Jackie! It is definitely one of my favourite books. I still can’t believe I haven’t read the sequel though :O I think I get caught up in review copies too much and the books I want to read as soon as they come out are pushed down the TBR. Which is one of the reasons I am not requesting as many books this year! I want to get to all the titles I’ve been missing out on because of reviewer anxiety.

    I thought I wouldn’t much like the beginning part of the book because it was following the siblings’ life as children, but I think it was completely necessary to build up the rest of the storyline of the book.

    I’m incredibly interested to see how Lada’s character will change over the course of the book to become the person that inspired the stories of Dracula. I love her and I don’t really want to see her become someone that everyone fears and hates (maybe even herself?).

    I hope we both like book two and three, Jackie! And lovely review ^.^

  • Amanda @Cover2CoverMom February 12, 2018 at 2:58 pm

    Oh man! I could definitely see where you would struggle with a narrator that doesn’t change their tone between perspectives. That would be super confusing and mess with reading flow once you realized the POV changed. I’m so happy that you enjoyed this one despite the rough start. I think White was brilliant in this retelling. I wasn’t super familiar with Vlad the Impaler, but after reading this I did some research and was even more impressed with how well White spun this tale. I also loved Lada & Radu’s complicated relationship. It felt very real to me. Growing up with 3 brothers myself, I can totally related to the love/hate type of relationship they shared. The second book is much more action-packed and holds even more political intrigue. I enjoyed the second book as much as the first!

  • Evelina @ AvalinahsBooks February 14, 2018 at 11:32 am

    Oh so that’s what this book is about 😀 I knew about the book, but I never bothered to read the blurb, lol 😀

  • Jamie @ The Last Page February 16, 2018 at 6:51 am

    I’m so glad that you enjoyed this novel, I absolutely agree with you that it’s a great character study that I was caught off guard by. I love Lada and Radu and how they are perfect opposites of each other. You’re right also that Now I Rise is more intense than the first, the characters personalities are more firmly established and the historical events covered were amazing. Radu’s character kind of takes the spotlight I felt like, as he has the most character development out of the two while the first book was little more about Lada.

    I struggled the first couple of chapters as well but after reading the whole novel I see how it was necessary for establishing the sibling’s relationships, but it did certainly feel slow. Ughhh, so good, it made my historian heart happy even despite the differences and I was honestly surprised by the book.

    • Jackie B February 16, 2018 at 4:00 pm

      I’m so glad to read your praises of And I Darken, Jamie! This makes me even more excitred for Now I Rise. I know quite a bit about this era of history we are about to enter. I’m super excited to see how Lada, Radu, and Mehmet’s activities are portrayed.

  • (Danielle) Books, Vertigo and Tea February 18, 2018 at 7:34 pm

    This was such a great review Jackie <3 I have just been waiting for your thoughts on this one and have to say that they seem pretty on par with my own. I was drawn the idea of a gender swap retelling Vlad! I also found the beginning to be a tad trying and slower paced, but it did not take long before the book sunk its teeth into me and now I am itching for the sequel!

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