And I Darken by Kiersten White

Souls are irreconcilable with thrones.

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Ladislav Dragwlya is the daughter of Wallachia. Her and her brother Radu have been given to the Ottoman Empire by their father as payment for his throne. As wards of the Sultan, they grow close to Mehmed, a young prince of the Empire. Mehmed is the bastard son of the Sultan, never meant to take the throne. Until one day his brothers are dead, and he’s the only son left. As Lada, Mehmed and Radu grow older, the brother and sister play key roles in his regime, serving as protectors and advisers. They both fall in love with the sultan.

 

This is a work of historical fiction based on the stories Vlad the Impaler, reimagined as a girl, Lada, and Mehmed the Conqueror. This is a reread. I thought I’d share my thoughts before reading the sequel (which I didn’t know was planned when I read this book the first time. Very exciting!)

Lada is mean. She’s aggressive and vicious and unapologetic. Lada spends the entire novel rebelling against her femininity and shying away from the wives and concubines of the harem. She refuses to be used as a tool by the men who she thinks control her (her father, Halil Pasha, the Sultan). She trains with the Janissaries, the military slaves of the Ottoman Empire, eventually becoming one and becoming the head of Mehmed’s personal guard.

Lada is uncompromising in her resolve. Her rise to any kind power is only made more significant. because it is in spite of the fact that she is a woman, constantly underestimated and undermined by the men of the Ottoman Empire. Even Mehmed, her closest friend and eventual love interest, tries constantly to control her and restrict her. During her time in the Ottoman Empire, she sees these people by the number of threads of power they hold and by who and what they can control. As a woman and a ward, she holds almost nothing. So she fights for what she wants and she seeks power where she can get it. Hers is not a Mary Sue story, but a story of struggling and fighting and taking what is hers

On top of the novel being feminist at its core, it also addresses other issues of the Ottoman Empire like imperialism and religion in ways that make the complexity of these issues clear. Lada has mixed feelings regarding religion, but she does recognize that it is a means to control people. It can be used as a justification (for the rampant imperialism that, for better or worse, made the Ottoman Empire what it was, for example) or a motivator for those who are willing to be used by religion. Radu uses it to find some comfort in this strange country; the first place he was ever shown any kindness in Edirne was when he wandered into the mosque with Kumal.

On the topic of imperialism, Mehmed believes he will conquer Constantinople. He thinks its his birthright as the sultan of the Ottoman Empire. He doesn’t seem to understand that Constantinople is not his to take. And I’m not here for it. People will die so Mehmed can take what isn’t his, just like people have been dying for centuries to expand lines drawn in sand. This is the cause of two revolts by the Ottoman military against Mehmed. It pisses Lada off too, for a long time. After all, Wallachia is hers, not the Ottoman Empire’s, even though it is a vassal state. But it’s too easy for everyone to justify it on the grounds of keeping safe what is already theirs.

If we were not pushing, fighting, claiming what is ours and challenging what is not yet ours, others would be doing it to us…. They would come with fire, with disease, with swords and blood and death. Weakness is an irresistible lure.

It’s hard to write a historical fiction because where does the story start? Where does it end? What’s relevant to include? White does a good job of selecting important moments and leaving other moments out, but this is a monster of a book (in terms of length). I remember being around 60% through and thinking this would never end. Real life rarely has a plot, even historically, so sometimes its difficult to feel like we’re keeping on track, but again White does a stellar job. This novel was also unique in terms of the YA genre because of its complexity. It featured romance, politics and violence, but through the eyes of the children/teens/young adults (because we got to see Lada, Radu and Mehmed as children/teens/young adults) who were present and had to deal with these situations.

TL;DR

  • 5/5 would recommend
  • Looking forward to the sequel
  • Lada is no Mary Sue, she’s a magnificent, vicious beast
  • Relatable commentary on imperialism, politics, religion

 

 

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