Hello everyone, and welcome back!
So today is a week from the release date for Now I Rise, which seemed like an opportune time to (finally) review And I Darken, a book I received ages ago and have failed to pick up for a long time.
I’ll admit, part of my hesitation about this book is that it’s a bit of a historical rewrite from a period of time I’m not necessarily that interested in. So that said, you may want to take my opinions on this one with an extra grain of salt. (Maybe a whole healthy sprinkle.)
Which is not to say I didn’t like this book, because I did. But a lot of people gave this a glowing five stars, and…I’m not really there with that. This might be one of those “it’s not you, it’s me” books.
But without further ado, let’s get into it!
And I Darken by Kiersten White
So the quick and easy summary of this book is as follows: Vlad the Impaler, except a girl. It is, in practice, not quite that simple. The author’s notes indicate that the author did research into various historical figures (Vlad, Mehmed the Conqueror, and Radu the Handsome) and decided to intersect them with a childhood growing up together, with all the attendant angst and backstory that would give them going into their historical victories and losses.
If you’re intrigued by that era of history and historical fiction, then you are automatically going to be 1000x more into this book than I was. (There’s a reason why I took a while to pick this up.)
But honestly, if you’re into slow character development and backstory, then this is a pretty good read. The author puts a lot of time and dedication into developing the complex sibling relationship between Lada (the Vlad of the novel) and Radu. A lot of work goes into developing their motivations and into making us feel their feelings.
Also, a lot of work goes into demonstrating to us the difficulties and horrors of being a woman in this time period, while also showing us various ways that women did achieve some kinds of power. Lada’s relationship to that is complicated, and I think not reductive or really anti-feminine, so I appreciated that.
And in general, this author’s writing craft-wise is noticeably pretty good. (When the writing is fine, I don’t really notice. But when the writing is noticeably good or noticeably bad, I definitely notice!)
However, a caveat: this book is reasonably slow, as it is mostly backstory leading up to what I think will be more bombastic events. As a result, this book really feels like a “set-up” novel. I’m okay with that (not thrilled, but interested enough to read the sequel), but if that irritates you and you’re not a historical fiction fan, you are likely to be put off by this book.
My further issue is that Mehmed, for all that he’s a central figure in this book, feels more like an idealized object than a person with his own motivations and feelings. I wish I’d known more about him so that I could understand why the main characters let their lives revolve around him. It’s not as if he doesn’t have traits; he’s kind and devout, clearly. But I have no real idea what beyond that guides his actions, which feels particularly weird given how solidly I understand where Lada and Radu are coming from.
I also felt like we could’ve spent a bit more time in Lada and Radu’s early childhood and a bit less time in their teen years, since I did want to feel more of Lada’s connection of Wallachia and get to know their complex relationship with each other and with their father and elder brother in that context, and not upon reflection while with Mehmed. That environment clearly shaped the attitudes and the people they became, but we don’t get much of it. (We do get a lot of Mehmed-related angst.)
I enjoyed this book, a lot because fierce Lada was amazing and I felt badly for Radu, who clearly has an awful life. And I’ll read the sequel for sure, because I think this book existed to create some intense emotional stakes for what will likely be a lot of action to come.
But on its own, this book isn’t really my favourite? It might be a little bit me. It probably is to some extent the book. Regardless, if you dig historical fiction and female characters who don’t fit the mold, then you should definitely check this out.
Who are some of your favourite standout female characters? What’s your favourite period of history? (I was so into classical civilizations, I studied them in university.) Let me know in the comments, and I’ll speak to you again soon!