I like words

And I Darken | Thoughts

3.5 Stars.

"'Your mother is Wallachia. Your mother is the very earth we go to now...Do you understand?'
She nodded, then held out her hand. 'The daughter of Wallachia wants her knife back.'" 

I'm disappointed I didn't like this more, given my high anticipation from how much gushing love it has been receiving.

I can see everything people love in it. It's written beautifully. The characters are real. Really real. Lada is glorious in her strength, and not in a fantastical way. And the relationship between Radu, Lada and Mehmed was one I have not seen done before, nor done so well.

But for me, despite recognizing all the wonderful strengths this book has, it was incredibly dull. I was bored most of the time—when it was only 10pm on a work night with 50 pages left and I decided "eh, I can finish tomorrow," I knew I just hadn't clicked with the story. Which is okay—not every book can be my soul mate, no matter how perfectly crafted.

*shrug* What can you do?

Lada is ferocious, cold, and calculating. She understands with perfect clarity how her world works. She is a girl, and girls are worthless. Girls are meant to be bartered, beaten, and submissive.

But she'll have nothing of that future. When her father—the only person she worshiped and aimed to please with all her little being—sells her and her brother to an enemy empire in order to maintain a shaky treaty, she knows her faith to be misplaced. And she sees their situation for what it is—they are kept alive only on the good graces of a brutal sultan, who impales men in his square for speaking out of turn and requires the children to be present every time.

When she and her brother befriend Mehmed, the forgotten third in line son of the sultan, Radu begins to feel safe, to forget the home that was never kind to him. The home he is slowly coming to realize he does not wish to return to. 

"'You are Wallachian. I am home. Get out.' 
Lada could think of nothing else to say. She wanted to hit him, to pin him to the ground until he relented like when they were children. But this was not the child she had known. She had lost Radu somewhere along the way, and she did not know how to get him back."

Lada cannot forget, and her complicated ties to both her brother and her friend mix constantly with her views of whose side she is really on.

"'But if you had been there, little dragon, whose side would you have fought for?'
'My own.'
'And which side is that?'
Their father had killed Lada and Radu twice over...she would not fight for him. Mehmed, then? He was her friend. He was also ruler of the country holding her captive. She finally fixed her hooded black eyes on Nicolae.
own side.'"

Radu is soft, beautiful, and kind. Others fall in love with him the moment they set eyes on him, and his soul is a gentle one in a world of the harshest reality. He worships his sister above all others, wishing for nothing more than to see her pleased with him, to have his love returned. But he can never quite keep up with her ruthlessness, and he feels forever lacking.

"Lada let out a dismissive puff of air between her lips. 'I keep us safe. Remember what I told you in the stables when Mircea was torturing you?'
A smile finally broke through Radu's concern. 'You would not let anyone else kill me.'
'That honor is mine and mine alone.'
He was still such a child in so many ways, and Lada wanted to keep him that way. Or force him to leave it behind forever. She never could decide which, and it nagged at her."

Radu breaks my heart. Just as Lada cannot decide whether she would have him harden in the necessary ways to stand up against the world, or stay the innocent child she cannot help but protect, I cannot decide what I want for Radu. Kiersten White's ability to convey the peace he feels when he finds his faith in prayer is astounding, and in those times I want to see a future for Radu away from the sultan, away from the armies, settled in with the people he loves.

Ah, and therein lies an issue, because as we come to find, the one Radu loves is one he cannot have. A common conflict, presented in a new way. I was so happy to find Radu gay, and at the same time sorrowful for the confusion he feels, for the fear he has of his own feelings.

The relationship between Radu and Lada, Radu and Mehmed, Lada and Mehmed, and the three of them together is a perilous one, full of love and danger for what that love means to and for each of them. Not that And I Darken was overly romantic...it's not romantic in the slightest, actually.

Mehmed wants to keep both of them, and become the great sultan his Prophet foretold. Both have given their hearts, have sacrificed much to be at his side.

But one will sacrifice more, for something no man can give, and no man can take away.

"And so she cut out her heart and offered it as a sacrifice. She would pay whatever price her mother Wallachia demanded." 

I do suppose that now Lada has ownership of her homeland, and is separated from the distraction of Mehmed, I may be more entertained. Perhaps what I was waiting for the whole book was for the characters to grow up (in age, not maturity) and start doing things. So if the next book follows Lada running Wallachia like the ruthless warrior she is, and Radu's and Mehmed's complicated—one sided?—relationship, then I'm in. I hope to be more excited while reading.

"'Lada Dracul. I am no longer the daughter of the dragon.' She lifted her chin, sights set on the horizon. 'I am the dragon.'"

Now there's the part of Lada's story I want to read.

And I Darken Review
Virginia DeFeo