And I Darken (14+ )
By ; Kiersten White
Publisher ; Penguin Random House (July 2016 )
When Ladislaw Dragwlya and her younger brother Radu were dragged out of their bed chambers in the middle of the night they didn't think they were to be taken to use as detainees to maintain their father`s throne. But when they were abandoned in the Ottoman Courts by their own father, their lives change forever.
The story rediscovers Dracula from a different perspective. And questions what if Vlad the Impaler was a female? But obviously there is more to "And I Darken " than that. Could a book be so rebellious as this? It not only recreates history through Lada but captures human needs and weaknesses and their desires so perfectly. This is a brilliant historical fiction based on the 15th century Turkey and the surrounding areas.
However it is the story of Lada (Ladislaw) The daughter of Vlad Dracula; the Voivode of Wallachia. Lada; a different child from the birth. She possesses an enormous physical and mental strength than any other male or female child around her age. She learns that being fierce and fearless may be the only ways to protect herself and her weak yet beautiful brother. Lada is not pretty and she has to use every strength of hers to survive in the Ottoman Courts. It is a different culture a different religion and she is almost a non existent by being a woman. Lada wants respect, and the dignity of her country back. How she`s going to get these things is an intriguing tale to follow. At the point she was forced to marry,which does not happen in the end, she spat out her feral words to the old groom;
"On our wedding night / I will cut your tongue and swallow it / Then both tongues that spoke our marriage vows will belong to me / and I will be wed only to myself / You will most likely choke to death on your own blood / which will be unfortunate / but I will be both husband and wife and therefore not a widow to be pitied"
In the Ottoman courts Lada and Radu meet their match; another unwanted, Mehmed; the third son of the Sultan. Together they grow up in the beautiful and serene city of Amasya. Away from the main courts. Lada still remains brutal, mean and stubborn; using these as protection shields for herself and her brother. And the author describes Lada to us as;
"At her hips was her sword / and on her wrists were her knives / Her spine was steel / Her heart was armor / Her eyes were fire "
Though at the beginning Lada desperately tries to deny her womanhood in fear of appearing as weak, she slowly learns that there are many kinds of feminine powers. Their days pass somewhat calmly without any direction and being unaware of what would become of them. Lada still holds on to her pouch containing an Evergreen spring and a pressed flower she carried from Walachia close to her heart. While Radu accepts Ottoman`s Land as his home wholeheartedly and converts to Islam. Youthful spirits of the three young people keep them occupied as they tell tales about ancient tombs and explore around. With Lada becoming friends with Janisseries and learning swordsmanship from them. However their peaceful days come to a sudden halt when they learn about the demise of Mehmed`s two older brothers.
When Mehmed suddenly becomes the heir to the throne they enter into a whirlwind of dirty political activities with treason,schemes and backstabbing. The rivals pushing all possible tactics to assassin Mehmed - And their lives being depended on each other - Every step and every move has to be carefully guarded. However Radu`s well planned intelligent measures and Lada`s watchful eyes, accompanied by her well armoured hands, creates Mehmed`s path to leadership. Their horrific experiences and the threats they encounter leave them to wonder about what matters to them most and in the end what they may have to sacrifice to fulfill their desires.
If Lada is the devilish one then Radu is quite the opposite; innocent and sweet natured. And Mehmed is Lada`s equal in many ways.Although their love for each other changes as they grow. Which also reflects the complexities in the human nature..
Well developed, powerful and daunting characters are accessible to the reader. The story is narrated with alluring descriptions and dialogue and keep the readers arrested till the end. The coming of age of the youth is represented through the three young people in the story as they try to understand themselves. There is suspense,cruelty love and lust in all shapes and colors from rainbow to deep red.
The descriptive settings and the rich contents that touche many aspects of the era - from it`s wars,court politics,harems and society - would obviously lead the readers to learn about the real history of the Ottoman empire.The story also touches Islamism with an open mind but does not discuss any religion too deeply, though it explores complexities of human relationships and it`s nature in depth. Absolutely mesmeric,fascinating and original!! The saga will continue and I cannot wait to read the next one.
( With many thanks to Penguin Random House and Net Galley for the ARC )