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.
Description taken from Goodreads. I received an advance copy of this book, to be published June 28th, 2016, in exchange for an honest review. These opinions are my own.
I almost gave up on Kiersten White, but I’m glad that I didn’t.
Mind Games was pretty great, and I was looking forward to reading the rest of Kiersten’s work. Illusions of Fate was gorgeous and compelling and one of my favorite novels of 2014. Then I read Paranormalcy, and it was so immature that I ended up reviewing it for my middle-grade blog instead.
If you’ve never liked anything by Kiersten White before, prepare to be blown out of your mind, because this book will make you feel like you’re completely insane.
I felt like I was completely insane after reading it. For the first 28% of the book, I was bored. Nothing really happened. It took that long to set everything up, which I can understand, and once it got going, it was a rollercoaster of emotions and heartbreak and motivations and not knowing who to vouch for.
Let’s start with Lada, one of our main characters. Oh, Lada. What a complete mess. She’s vicious and strong and always striving to be better than everyone else. She’s terrified of losing herself, losing her independence, losing her country, and she was constantly on my last nerve. But at the same time…
I UNDERSTOOD HER. I liked her, even.
You can see how much turmoil I was in reading this book.
Yes, Lada has some serious control issues. She’s also mean, especially to her younger brother, Radu. However, there’s so much more to Lada than that. She’s complex and fully-formed. She cares so much about the people close to her, and she’ll do whatever she needs to do in order to keep them safe. She’s still trying to figure out how to reconcile the person she is and the person she wants to be, and aren’t we all?
And I could go on about Lada, but the other characters also shined. While I did feel like there were a few too many supporting characters, the supporting cast was, for the most part, phenomenal.
White does an amazing job of setting up the setting of the novel without beating around the bush. There’s little no flowery descriptions, and she tries hard to stay away from spending any of the 496 pages of this wasting time. It takes a very specific kind of politics to get me interested in “political intrigue”, and White nailed it. As a fan of history, I loved reading about the Ottoman Empire, and each character’s place in it, especially Radu’s.
Radu was just as stunning as Lada. He’s not all that in the beginning.
Maybe I have to backtrack a little.
One thing I hate about character development in stories is that too often, the author doesn’t address the idea that most people never fundamentally change. White does.
As Radu grows up, he becomes someone who is charming. Charismatic. Well-liked. And yet, on the inside, he remains incredibly lonely. He’s like Lada in that he cares only for very specific people, but he wields this aspect of his personality in a completely different way than she does. I loved, and sympathized, with his character throughout the novel, even if I didn’t always agree with him. He was just as memorable and lovable as Lada, in his own way.
I didn’t review Legacy of Kings becomes it completely fell flat for me. I love Alexander the Great and all that, but the book was too much and not enough for me. And I Darken was what I wanted when I struck out on this historical political novel run. The plot, oh, the plot.
Lada, Radu, and Mehmed struggle a lot throughout this novel. They go through their own individual heartbreaks, loves, highs, and lows. Radu and Lada form a tentative peace with each other, and Lada wonders if she can love someone without losing herself.
I should bring up that this book has LGBT themes in it. I won’t say who it is. I suspected it from the beginning, but my suspicions weren’t confirmed until about halfway (or more) throughout the book. Nothing personal, I just usually never read LGBT books.
The reason why I’m reviewing this at all when I, under my review policy, don’t generally review LGBT YA, is because that character is much more than their sexuality. By that, I mean that this character’s sexuality is more about the self-conflict he/she faces and the journey he/she goes through rather than the romance. I do wish I had known beforehand that this was a LGBT novel, but the LGBT themes to it are set on the back burner as a sub-sub-plot, and the romance in general is pretty tame.
Overall, I loved this one. I loved the complexity of it, and I was able to fall in love with Kiersten’s writing again. The plot, world, and characters were richly formed without flowery writing, and that was refreshing. I would read this one again, and I’ll probably end up reading the rest of the series. The ending of And I Darken isn’t a cliffhanger, but it will leave you dying for more. 4 stars.
**As a note, I don’t think this book will be for everyone. It’s not written that way. There are some points in the story where it’s hard to understand Lada and, admittedly, I had a love/hate relationship with her for the first 35% of the book. That being said, I wouldn’t change anything about her character or her story. Also, the fact that this is historical fiction will be hard to swallow for people who don’t typically read it or enjoy it. There’s a lot of history, clans/groups, multi-national struggles, and religious duty involved here. I probably wouldn’t recommend this for those people. Again, I wouldn’t change that about this story.
Series: The Conqueror’s Saga #1