And I Darken by Kiersten White

And I Darken (The Conquerors Saga #1) by Kiersten White
Published on June 28, 2016 by Delacorte Press.

Links: Goodreads.

Source: ARC via NetGalley. Thank you Delacorte Press for providing me with an e-copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Genre: historical YA.

My rating:

No one expects a princess to be brutal. And Lada Dragwyla likes it that way.

Ever since she and her brother were abandoned by their father to be raised in the Ottoman sultan’s courts, Lada has known that ruthlessness is the key to survival. For the lineage that makes her and her brother special also makes them targets.

Lada hones her skills as a warrior as she nurtures plans to wreak revenge on the empire that holds her captive. Then she and Radu meet the sultan’s son, Mehmed, and everything changes. Now Mehmed unwittingly stands between Lada and Radu as they transform from siblings to rivals, and the ties of love and loyalty that bind them together are stretched to breaking point.

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Well, I suspect I’ll be a bit of a black sheep with this one. I saw some very positive reviews already (I haven’t read them yet because I wanted to write mine first) and it seems like mostly everyone liked this novel a lot! However, I don’t think I’ll be reading the sequel, sadly.

Let’s do the positive side first, though, it’s always important to give credit where it’s due. The writing is great. The main reason I requested this ARC was that I really enjoyed White’s Illusions of Fate – though I somehow never managed to review it here. Something about her style appeals to me, so I might give her books another chance – just not the sequel to this one.

Also, the historical setting was very convincing and well researched. So if you’re into historical fiction (not historical romance, mind you!), you’d do well to give this one a go. I don’t know whether you’re aware – but Turks (of the Ottoman Empire) invaded what is now Slovenia, too, when they were trying to reach Vienna at some point. And they took Slovenian boys as Janissaries as well. Not as many as in other Balkan nations, to be sure, but we have remnants of their language in some expressions and fortified churches on tops of hills where people fled when the warning fires burned. So it was an interesting historical period to read about, one that hasn’t been very popular in recent years. I liked that they weren’t necessarily presented as invaders, too – the author took care to be very, very neutral and thorough.

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But I disliked both the plot and the characters, which are probably the most important aspects of a story for me, so the setting and the writing didn’t make much of a difference in the final rating.

The main problem I had with these two crucial elements is that a) nothing good happens and b) there are no likable characters. And this is a problem for me, especially in YA. I’m not saying all YA books (or all books in general) should have a happy ending, far from it. In fact, I enjoy a dark story from time to time. But I feel like there has to be some hope, some moment of happiness, even if it’s crushed and stomped on in the end. I have to say that this is probably the most depressing book I’ve read in a while – and I’ve read books that made me cry, they just weren’t so dark.

It also doesn’t help that the historical period this story is set in was very bloody and uncertain. While the portrayal of the roles of women, for example, was very authentic, and I was impressed by White’s refusal to romanticize the lives of sultan’s concubines, I wish that there was something bright to look forward to. But there wasn’t and I was left with a profound sense of dread of what will happen in the sequel.

As for the characters, I couldn’t sympathize with any of them. Lada (the reimagining of Vlad the Impaler), the girl protagonist of the story, is twisted and cruel. Radu, her brother, goes from a pitiful boy to a scheming young man – he’d have been a good character to root for if he wasn’t so absolutely spineless. And Mehmed, the sultan’s heir, is an entitled little shit most of the time, even if he recognizes that Lada and Radu are very important in his life. I did not like how their relationships developed from childhood through adolescence, I didn’t like the lengths they went to. And if Lada managed to carve out a semblance of power for herself in a world where women were viewed as property, she was too selfish to ever think about improving the lives of other women with this newfound strength. *spoiler in white* Also, Mehmed’s professions of affection towards Lada were hollow and downright insulting when he continued visiting the harem and having babies.  I also thought I’d like the dynamic of this unlucky love triangle (Radu is hopelessly in love with Mehmed), but it only served to make all three of them act even worse towards each other, which was really disappointing. *end of spoiler*

I just wished someone was good enough to go against the rules of the society, to rebel not just for the sake of him/herself but to help others, too. *sigh* So you see, it was very hard to care for the fates of these people when they cared so little for the fates of those around them. Does this make sense? Again, I’m not saying that all YA protagonists have to be likeable, I love a good villain story, but there has to be someone to balance the scales.

All in all, as you can see this wasn’t a story for me. I won’t be reading the sequel because I simply can’t justify reading about unlikable characters when I have so many other, more attractive books to read. Go check out Mogsy’s and Alicia’s reviews, though, their tastes are usually very similar to mine so I’m curious to read what appealed to them in this novel!

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Have you read And I Darken? What did you think? What about other books by Kiersten White?

Do you like dark stories or do you prefer at least a drop of sunshine in every tale?

I’d love to hear from you!

Let’s be friends: emailbloglovin’twitterinstagramgoodreads.

  • I’ve been a bit baffled by the existence of this book, honestly — it just… doesn’t appeal to me at all, and I don’t understand why it does to others! Still, the fact that the historical setting is good does make me curious…

    • I don’t know if it’s worth reading for the historical setting alone. I read reviews saying it bored people to death – and then I saw another claiming it was their favourite book of 2016. I know length isn’t an issue for you but I also thought it dragged a bit, it’s like 500 pages long (I read the eARC but yeah).

  • Well, I agree that so far the reviews for this have been mostly positive but I’ve just seen two other less favorable reviews pop up on my feed this week…with one of those being a DNF review…so you’re definitely not alone here. I wasn’t interested in this at all until so many people seemed to love it. I’m still not sure if it’ll end up being for me but I’m curious. Lovely and fair review as always Kaja!

    • Well, if you do get to it, I’ll definitely be interested in your opinion! It isn’t fantasy, though, there’s absolutely nothing magical about it – if that will sway you one way or another. I kind of thought it was historical YA fantasy going in but soon realized it was just plain old historical. Eh.

  • I’ve actually seen quite a few negative reviews on this and I’m not really sure I want to read it now as I’m not a fan of dark books at all and most of the time I have to have likable characters in a book for me to enjoy it! Great review!

    • Well, then, I never like to actively discourage people from reading a certain book but if these characteristics you mention are your triggers, you’ll want to stay clear of this one. I mean, there aren’t that many graphic scenes in the book but it’s definitely dark (the mood and the overall absence of hope).

      But on the other hand, I just saw a review claiming it was this person’s favourite book of 2016, so it really produces very different responses in people! :)

  • It’s so funny how we’ve come out of this book feeling so differently! I actually thought the writing was mediocre, but the characters were awesome. With the exception of Radu, I didn’t find them very likeable either, but in this instance, I guess not liking them was not as important to me. I tend to enjoy these “character study” type stories a lot more though :)

    • I know! I read your review and I was surprised by how much you liked it! I know we read vastly different stuff but we usually agree on YA, at least in broad terms. :) It seems it’s one of those books that you either love or hate (I saw a reviewer claiming it was their favourite book of 2016, for example).

      Did you know, going in, that it wasn’t a fantasy book? I’d expected magic given White’s previous work and I didn’t really check the description, so I was surprised to find it was just a historical.

      • Well, to me “alt history” is always already fantasy/sci-fi, so I guess I wasn’t expecting anything beyond that…I think magic would have been gravy, but no I didn’t really think it would have any :)

        You’re not the only one I know who wouldn’t count this as “fantasy” though. Interestingly, I’ve noticed that adult novels of this type (i.e. historical fantasy/alt history/retellings but with changes like to names of people and places, etc.) would normally be unequivocally classified in SFF (like Guy Gavriel Kay’s books, for example) but when it comes to YA novels like these, there always seems to be more debate! I actually find this difference in categorization fascinating!

        • Huh, yeah, you have a point … I mean, it makes sense that alt history is “fantasy” is a way but I always thought of fantasy as either including magic, “unreal” creatures such as dragons, or lands that don’t exist, say Atlantis or something. For me, having a real setting without magic is just a retelling.

          I didn’t know that this is considered fantasy in adult lit – but then I haven’t read that many (any?!) such adult books! Or maybe I have but didn’t know they were supposed to be SFF and just thought they were historicals.

  • Aw I am so sorry that this was such a miss for you! It seems people either love it or hate it and there isn’t a ton of middle ground, which worries me a bit- I want to love it, but I am afraid! Because like you, I need to like the characters and the story, otherwise nothing else matters. And I hate to start such a long book (and a series at that!) and end up bored and/or conflicted. Ugh. I haven’t read any of the author’s books yet, so I am not sure if I’d like any of them. BUT I am okay with a dark story! I do like a BIT of sunshine- or at least the HOPE of sunshine, someday? Great review, I am sorry it didn’t work for you!

    • Haha, yeah, that’s the impression I got, too – some people claim it’s their new favourite and others have even DNFed it! I thought it was good but had too many issues to discount.

      Well, some people connected with Radu, I even saw people admire Rada (I read a number of reviews these past couple of weeks, I was really interested in what people had to say about this one), so I think it’s really a matter of personal preference.

      I REALLY liked White’s Illusions of Fate, so she does write good books – it’s just that I can’t bring myself to like THIS one. I’m curious about her other fantasy standalones, I think she has one or two that I haven’t picked up yet.

  • This book appeals to me more because I liked Illusions of Fate and less because I’m interested in treading the book. It’s not logical but it’s true. I love the fact it’s set in such an interesting historical period. This is a time I know nothing about so I really want to read it for that reason as well, I think.

    It sucks you didn’t enjoy it because of the characters or the plot, though. If one was less than stellar you could have put up with it but to have neither is just disappointing. I don’t know, I’ll probably grab a copy from my local library (if they get it in) but I won’t be rushing out to buy it now.

    • Hmmm… If you’re expecting a repeat of Illusions of Fate, you’ll be disappointed in this one, I’m pretty sure about that. Nothing is the same. It’s actually funny to see an author write such a different book – authors nowadays usually tend to stick to one genre, right?

      And yeah, getting it from the library is probably sensible if you’re not sure you want to read it – you can still buy it later if it turnes out to be a new favourite!

      • Not expecting a repeat of Illusions of Fate but more a book which is on par with that one. Interesting story and characters. I dunno, I suppose when you’re only really wanting to read the book because you liked something else an author wrote it’s hard to say what you’re expecting to get from it isn’t it? I quite like authors that try and write such different things. I mean, look at JK Rowling, Harry Potter and those books she wrote as Robert Galbraith are shockingly different yet I liked both. Not every author can achieve that though, but it’s interesting to see people try.

        Fingers crossed my library stocks it soon.