And I Darken starts us in Wallachia, where one of our main characters is being born. Lada comes into the world screaming, the eldest legitimate child of Vlad Dracul (yes, the inspiration for Dracula). He wishes for a son (obvs, we’re in the 1400s, women were totally not powerful) but gets an ugly daughter stronger than he ever imagined. She is followed by his son, Radu who is wimpy and pitiful, but eventually claims intelligence and cleverness as his strengths.
They are sold to Murad II, the sultan of the Ottoman Empire, in return for protection for Vlad’s reign over Wallachia, and their adjustment to their new lives is where our story truly takes off. They befriend Mehmed, the hair to the throne, and each falls in love with him as they become fast friends. When his father abdicates the throne and forces Mehmed into the sultanate at the age of 12 (!!!!) Lada and Radu help him navigate his very short rule, and help to save his life by getting his father back on the throne and escaping to an outer realm. He later returns to the throne upon his father’s death, and the repercussions of this bring us to the end of this first book of the series.
There were so many reasons that I loved this book that they are difficult to recount here. This book was an absolutely immersive experience. White’s writing makes you feel as though you are a part of history. The treatment of women, gay and lesbian people, and children is not treated with kid gloves. In the same vein the tangled power relationships and political intrigue are written like a high class thriller. Something is always happening in the background that you can’t see, waiting to jump out and derail your enjoyment of the story, which most likely mirrors the actual experience of Mehemed, Lada, and Radu.
I appreciated that our author made our female lead equal parts fierce and feminine, and I enjoyed reading the internal conflict that Lada experiences when she weighs what is expected of her and what she expects of herself. She recognizes that being a woman is a huge obstacle, but she is not willing to allow anyone, including herself, to let that stop her from reclaiming her motherland.
The husband is a history buff and an AP World History teacher. I’ve been telling him how much I’ve enjoyed this book, and when I mentioned the character names to him, he said, “Oh, Mehmed the Conqueror? Yeah I know all about that!” I’ll need to rely on him for some details as I move on to Book 2: Now I Rise.
I’ve included some links at the top of this review that should give you some historical background on the Ottoman Empire and the surrounding regions, including Lada’s homeland of Wallachia. I read these after I finished the book and I must give Kiersten White a standing ovation for weaving her story through these actual, historical events so cleanly and elegantly that I was learning things without realizing that I was being instructed. Bravo. I never wanted to put it down and I couldn’t read it fast enough. If you love historical fiction, go get you some.