ARC Review: “And I Darken” by Kiersten White

27190613And I Darken (The Conquerers Saga #1) by Kiersten White

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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.

3 1/2 stars

Thanks to NetGalley and Delacorte Press for the eARC! This title will be released June 28th, 2016

As someone who has read almost every Kiersten White book in existence, I still don’t know what to make of this one. It opens up with a disclaimer that this is like no other Kiersten White book you’ve ever read, and that’s fair. But it’s for all these good AND bad reasons that are jumbled in my head and have left me mightily confused.

Structurally, this book is kind of a mess. You know that Ottoman captives bit the blurb starts with? Well, that doesn’t happen until you’re basically a fourth of the way through the book. This book covers a HUGE span of time, beginning right with Lada’s birth, and that makes the opening rather slow. I dropped it at about 11% and wasn’t interested in picking it up until about a month later because, well, it’s a Kiersten White book and I got it to review.

I’m really glad I did. I think.

Yes, the opening is slow and it takes forever to get somewhere of substance. Also, in trying to cover so much time, a lot of the background characters feel like they’ve been tossed into a revolving door, and just as you get used to them they vanish. A lot more do come back around, but–as someone who isn’t great at keeping track of large character casts–sometimes it felt like I was getting whiplash.

The plot is also super complicated. I genuinely am not sure if there is one overarching plot, since it does take place over such a long period of Lada’s life. There’s her brief time in her home country, followed by a very short flee to the Ottoman capital, then a crazy amount of ping-ponging back and forth between two Ottoman cities. It tries to be really involved, but sometimes I think at the loss of deep character development. Characters, like the readers, are being tossed around a lot.

That being said, I did come to love Lada and Radu once the plot settled down a bit between a fourth of the way and halfway through. I really didn’t think that I was going to, because the changing narration between them often privileges description of actions over emotional characterization. I had them pegged for certain character stereotypes in the beginning, but as the book went on those were constantly being complicated. Once I hit about halfway through, I couldn’t put the book down. Seriously. I was reading on my Kindle app at work.

I have to give props to Kiersten for her vision for Lada’s character. In the end, I think that it is her character–and the way that she is portrayed–that really warmed me to this book. Lada is unapologetically strong and fierce, but in ways that both help and hinder her. Her fierceness makes her unlikable to other characters (and, even sometimes, to the reader), but she also reveals self-doubts and curiosities that allow her to be more than just a girl who can fight as good as a man. And her decision in the end of the book? *makes high pitched shrieking sounds of happiness*

Also, I have to mention the character development of Radu. Talk about something that went somewhere I did not expect. I don’t mean the fact that he ends up being a prong in a love triangle (yes, his sister is in this love triangle. It does not involve incest, I swear). He really grows into his own as the book goes on, in strong ways of his own that rival Lada’s fierceness but are something completely different. I loved that build a lot.

After I put the book down, I felt conflicted about how I should rate it. I still do. 3 1/2 stars seems like a safe bet. I do seriously want to read the next book in this series–like now–but this first book suffered mightily from structural issues. If I hadn’t been reading this for review, I’m not sure that I would have kept going. Then, even when the book sped it, it was still trying to do too much, cover too much ground, and include too many political plots, conspiracies and characters. I used the word whiplash earlier, and I meant it.

This is not like any Kiersten White book you have ever read before. In some ways, it’s better. In others, it’s worse. But if this sounds appealing to you, and you’re willing to wait out the beginning,  I do recommend reading it. Kiersten is clearly going for something new for her, with a great vision behind it, and I am ready to go on this journey with her.


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