“So the question becomes, Daughter of the Dragon, what will you sacrifice? What will you let be taken away so that you, too, can have power?”
And I Darken was undoubtedly a book with a brilliant premise! Afterall, what is not to love about a gender – bent historical fiction seeking to re-tell the story of Vlad the Impaler, only this time from a woman’s perspective! This is a novel that tackles politics, religion, femininity, sexuality, love and different types of power in an effective and enjoyable way. However, it is important that the reader go in knowing that this is not the fantasy it is often marketed to be! This is historical fiction, and had I been fully aware of this as opposed to expecting fantasy perhaps my perception of this book would’ve been a little more positive. That is not to say, however, that this was a bad book. It was perfectly enjoyable, and was a solid first installment to this series!
This novel is one that focuses heavily on its political element, and though this is to be expected with historical fiction and though I quite enjoyed it, it did prove to cause some slight problems that were hard to overlook. The harem politics that were explored were a particular strength to this novel, and the exploration of conflict and potential civil war were interesting to me. However, often the politics were seen to take away from the action of the novel and the author repeatedly slipped into telling you that something had happened as opposed to showing it. This subsequently left me with the feeling that the plot was building up to something that never really materialized, with the author instead reverting back to discussions on politics that often felt a bit long- winded. However, I am desperately trying to remain optimistic despite this, and hope that the next book is the payoff for all of the build up seen in this book!
Alongside this slight issue was the topic of pacing. The pace of this novel was incredibly slow and though this wasn’t much of a problem for me personally, I can see the potential this has to frustrate certain readers. The narrative is a chronological one, and follows the two central characters in dual perspective as they are growing up. Due to this, it is somewhat inevitable that the pace is slow, and this was certainly another quality of the novel that indicated that this was important build up, the payoff for which we would see in the following novels.
The means by which White explores much of the remaining themes is through her characterization, which was a particular strength of this novel. An interesting sibling dynamic was explored throughout the whole novel, with this dynamic being little seen in much of the YA category. Lada and Radu had a relationship that was so incredibly complex that I was in awe, and the characterization of them as polar opposites only aided this. Lada is a character that is brutal, vicious and calculating much like the man on which she is based, but through White’s narrative we are also allowed an insight into her motives and her background. This makes for a character that a reader occasionally hates but also interestingly comes to like in spite of all of her flaws. This is incredibly important as it is where White best succeeds in reaching the balance between glorifying a historical figure and demonizing them that she sought to achieve, instead defying the usual historical perspectives and painting her characters in a way that creates almost a middle- ground.
Furthermore, it is through the character of Lada that White most clearly explores themes of femininity and the power that can come as a result of it. This is a character that at her very core struggles in not knowing whether to renounce her femininity completely or to embrace and use it in a way that will eventually allow her to gain more power. This was one of my favorite aspects of the novel, and is something I sincerely hope is explored further in the following books!
As for Lada’s brother Radu, he was genuinely one of my favorite characters despite the qualms I had concerning the way White portrayed his feelings for Mehmed (but that is something I’ll discuss later in this review). I loved his gradual realization that he had strength in the aspects of himself that he grew up believing were faults. His development from trembling child to a man who successfully used his looks and friendly nature to defeat his enemies from the inside was particularly enjoyable to read, and is another aspect that I hope will be explored further in the following novels.
The whole romantic aspect of the novel was something that I unfortunately actively disliked. The whole thing was, for the most part, frustrating. For starters it’s slightly too much like a love- triangle for my liking, but this is something I wouldn’t have minded provided I understood why both of the main characters were so devoted to the love interest. This, however, was not something I understood. Mehmed’s character seemed so average to me, and the way he treated Lada genuinely bothered me, especially toward the end as he was seen to become more misogynistic. Furthermore, Radu’s endless pining became a bit much. Though I understand that his love was supposed to be represented as all- consuming, it became a little tiresome to read about his love for Mehmed on nearly every single page. This was such a large aspect of the story, and I therefore desperately hope that this is something that improves in the next two novels!
Overall, this book was good. It wasn’t brilliant, and there were aspects that bothered me, but that is not to say that this was not a solid start to the trilogy! I am remaining optimistic for the rest of the series, and will be reading them in the very near future!
“Some victories are merely defeat wearing the wrong clothing”