And I Darken by Kiersten White (The Conquerer’s Saga #1)

4,5 to 5 “warrior princess” stars

I was ready to write: “In no particular order I loved…” but that would have been a lie. I love Lada above everything and anything else!!!!
I know some of my friends swoon over Mehmet and Radu’s abs and chests and… but I swoon over Lada’s spunk and utter determination to achieve her dream. And I’m as straight as they come.
Lada has now joined my personal pantheon of kickass heroines, I named: Celaena Sardothien/Aelin Galathynius; Emma Carstairs; Feyre, Sam from Deep In Your Veins,…

I absolutely adored this unconventional backward retelling of what I guess will be Vlad The Impaler story or Dracula if you prefer. Vlad is not a boy she is a girl. And what a girl!

Let me explain.

Back to the story: Lada is ugly with sharp teeth. She is the daughter of Vlad Dracul, military governor of Transylvania and a coward. She’s been traded and bartered with her little brother Radu securing the Ottoman Sultan’s protection. They are now prisoners in Edirne among infidels she hates with all her soul. She is like a wildcat, feral. She swears to go back to Wallachia one day and be a real Dracul unlike her father. ”A dragon did not crawl on its belly in front of his enemies, begging for their help. A dragon did not vow to rid the world of infidels, and then invite them into its home. (…)A dragon burned everything around herself until it was purified in ash.”

Both fearing for their lives they’re at the mercy of the Ottomans, especially Halil Pasha a vicious man. When Radu and Lada meet Mehmet, the sultan’s son they’re barely teenagers. Sweet Radu soothes Mehmed while Lada with her usual “tact” adds salt to the wounds: ”I will burn your city to the ground.” Far from being repelled Mehmed looks for their company as Lada is the only one speaking her mind to Mehmet. They’ll become friends vowing to protect him as he is protecting them.

Now they won’t stay children forever and that’s when things will get..complicated. Court plots, rivals murders, assassination attempts, battles and thwarted love kept me reading and reading and reading some more.

It’s already established that I loved Lada. She was born a girl hence worthless in this world and century. Her only value was securing alliances through marriage. But she did not want to marry. She wanted to fight like a man. She dreamed of owning Wallachia her homeland. She had a goal and was determined to reach it. She was a girl in a men’s world? So what? She would force them to acknowledge her worth.
I wanted to shout “Girl Power!”.

She has an inner fire and fought tradition to build her own destiny. She was faster, better than most boys. She was contrary and vicious. ”But in Lada she saw a spark, a passionate, fierce glimmer that refused to hide of be dimmed.” She thinks she does not know how to love because loving is a weakness but she cared deeply for her brother, for Mehmet, for her Janissaries in her own way.

When her little brother Radu was born he inherited all the beauty, sweetness and tactfulness she should have had as a girl. From the first moment on, he’s been Lada’s. ””A brother,” she said, her voice soft. The baby started to cry … Lada’s scowl deepened. She slapped a dimpled hand over his mouth. The nurse pulled him away quickly, and Lada looked up, face contorted in rage. “Mine!” she shouted.”
Where Lada was brutal, fierce and passionate, tearless Radu was soft, pretty, crying easily. He felt lonely as Lada preferred playing with strong Bogdan. If Lada never coddled him she would always be her protector. No one could kill him but her.

When they met Mehmet the three of them felt lonely. They became inseparable. Lada and Radu both loved Mehmet and would do everything to protect him. Of course things change once they’re growing.

I know many readers love Mehmet and Radu but I had conflicted feelings.
I despised what Mehmet did to Lada. I objectively can understand the Ottoman’s traditions. What was allowed, expected even from the Sultan. But as a girl and from another religion I hurt with Lada. I wanted Mehmet to go against traditions. Even if he did sincerely love Lada I could not forgive him. I know this is irrational and it would not have been true to the century but I’m a hopeless romantic.
So when Lada bled I bled with her. When Lada raged I raged as well.

Radu annoyed me. Well not as in “bored” but I love “manly men”. His crying and softness made me want to shake him like Lada did. On the other hand I can see what he is adding to the story. He makes it more interesting and less predictive. In his own way he protected Mehmet and Lada. I can also admit he is a gentle and loveable soul. But…

So in particular order I loved:
-Lada!;
-the conflicting relationships. The “I love you but I’m jealous and I should let you die but I can’t”.
-the many topics broached in the book: women’s position in past centuries; the thirst to reach your dream be it owning Wallachia even if you were a girl or conquering Constantinople; the appeal some religion can have on others; the feelings of being other, different and never able to be loved as you should;
-the reinterpretation of Vlad’s tale;
-…

I had never read anything by Kiersten White but she is now on my best fantasy authors shelf. If you like stories like The Throne of Glass; The Queen of Tearling and other tales with strong heroines go for it you won’t be disappointed.

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