Review: And I Darken

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And I Darken by Kiersten White 

Narrated by Fiona Hardingham

Published by the Listening Library on 28 June 2016

Length: 13 hours and 26 minutes

Format: Audiobook

Source: Free download via Audible

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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. 

I’m a bit late to the audiobook party. Admittedly, I started because I found juggling an actual book (along with all my other bits and bobs) while standing on the train to/from work difficult. A friend recommended I try Audible, because they have a 30 day free trial and you get one free book a month. And I Darken was my pick for September. I went into it not knowing anything about it, apart from the fact that it was incredibly polarising on Goodreads. I really loved it!

“On our wedding night,” she said, “I will cut out 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.”

It’s a dark, gritty story with a savage, unapologetic heroine. A lot of people have classified it as fantasy, but it’s really an alternate history. Set in Transylvania at the height of the Ottoman Empire, it reimagines Vlad the Impaler, who’s probably best known as the inspiration behind Bram Stoker’s Dracula, as a girl. A very aggressive, very ambitious girl. It’s refreshing to see a heroine who is advertised as being cruel and savage as, well…. cruel and savage. Celaena Sardothien,   Ladislav Dragwlya is not. Lada is disdainful towards women and spends a fair chunk of the book navigating her femininity. The book explores different types of power and how they are wielded. I think a really powerful moment was Lada realising how some women use their sexuality as a means to an end, and that it was used to greater effect than fear.

Lada is also disdainful of her brother, who she sees as weak. Lada and Radu have been handed over as political prisoners to assure their father’s continued reign. Their relationship is tempestuous, filled with jealousy, frustration, and miscommunication. They also recognise that they are all they have in the world, and care for one another immensely. Radu is as charming and gentle as Lada is savage and cruel. Working together, they are unstoppable. I really appreciated the realistic depiction of their relationship and the complexity to it.

Overall, it was an original and enthralling listen. Fiona Hardingham really captured the atmosphere, and it really felt like she was performing the story rather than just reading it. It’s a lot more politically focused than many young adult/new adult fiction, and White expertly weaves religion, politics and sexuality throughout the story. Religion, politics and sexuality drive not only the plot, but the characters themselves, and it was incredible to listen to everything come together. I really enjoyed that this was a story set in Eastern Europe, because most historical//fantasy young adult fiction is inspired by Western Europe.

From the sounds of things, White really did her research, and it shows. I can’t wait to see what’s next in this saga.

Recommended if you like: The Winner’s Trilogy

★★★★☆

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