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Book Review: And I Darken – Kiersten White

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“A princess unlike any you’ve known before; ruthlessness is the key to her survival.”

I did not know what to expect when I picked up this book. I have never read any other books by this author and was not overly aware of any of her previous work. I was drawn to a story that focuses on a gender-swapped Vlad the Impaler as I had never read anything like that before and this book did not disappoint.

This is a gritty, complex, dark and twisted historical fiction re-telling. I cannot tell you how historically accurate the setting is (the author does note that liberties were taken) so do bear this in mind if you are knowledgeable about this time period. There is a lot of political intrigue within this story and this, alongside fascinating characters, is what really drives the narrative.

Radu and Lada are brother and sister and both are unwanted by their father. Lada is constrained by the societal expectations of her gender and fights against this with her every action; Radu is kind and gentle, a disappointment to his father. The relationship between Radu and Lada is complicated; there are times when Lada appears unecessarily cruel to her brother, but there is more to Radu than first appears.

For me, this book was all about Lada. She is unlike any female protagonist I have encountered before. At times she is not an easy character to like – she is calculating, she is cruel – but there was something that I really liked about her. Maybe it was her determination not to become like the other women that she saw around her. Maybe it was her ability to stand up for herself and her conviction that her actions are justified. Maybe it was her unbridled survival instinct. Impulsive, determined, ruthless – this is not your average YA heroine.

There are times in this book that you will hate her, but there are also times that she appears to be the only one with any awareness of what is happening around her. There is only one moment when I felt that she acted out of character, a moment when she appeared to go against everything you believed she stood for. I was disappointed at this decision, but the last chapters of the story soon made me forget this.

Radu was a fascinating counterpoint to Lada. The opposite of her in so many ways, it would be easy for his character to get lost in the story, but he does have a genuine role to play. His experiences are so very different to that of Lada, but this provides a much needed sense of balance to the story. One of my favourite elements of the story is the relationship between brother and sister.

If you are looking for an action adventure, this book may not be for you. The constant threat in this book is based on the political backdrop of the time that Lada and Radu live in. There is genuine threat and you are aware that Lada and Radu are alive only at the whim of others. At any point they could be destroyed. This kept me reading, as I was intrigued to follow their attempts at survival – would they both make it through to the end of the story?

Have you read this book? What did you think? Are you excited for the rest of the series? Let me know in the comments below.

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