100-Character Breakdown: Dark, character-focused, nuanced — a YA historical fiction novel full of intrigue and complexity.
Genre: Young adult, historical fiction, diverse lit
Publisher: Delacorte Press (June 2016)
This exciting piece of 15th century historical fiction follows two siblings as they find themselves trapped deep in the Ottoman Empire. Kiersten White transforms history’s Vlad the Impaler into Lada Dragwyla, the daughter of the dragon; this provides an intricate look at the period’s gender roles. And I Darken follows Lada and her brother Radu the Handsome as they are removed from their home of Wallachia and kept in the Sultan’s palace in Edirne. They grow up there, bargaining chips to keep their father — prince of Wallachia — loyal. Lada is vicious where Radu is timid; Lada is stubborn where Radu is cunning. They struggle searching for their place in Edirne, but they both find themselves attached to Mehmed, third son of the sultan. Their relationships with Mehmed draw them to the empire’s dramatic political conflicts and conflict with each other. While Lada sees Radu and Mehmed as her only ties to the Ottoman Empire, Radu begins to connect with it in ways neither of the siblings expected.
And I Darken’s plot sometimes feels long and winding, but this is natural in a way, considering that the novel takes place over many years. Following these characters throughout their formative years adds so much depth. The beginning is a bit slow, but the inclusion of their time in Wallachia reaps the rewards of patience as Lada and Radu grow complex and we see how their past influences them. At times the novel feels less plot-based and more of a character portrait, and this works with such intriguing characters. As made clear with a title like And I Darken, these characters end up in some dark emotional places. Between their pain, the setting, the complexities of the political intrigue, and a complicated love triangle, this YA novel is extremely refreshing. The author works wonders with this time period, making decisions that drastically improve the stakes and nuance of the story while not straying too far from the historical basis. No doubt the plot will only grow darker as White’s trilogy continues.