And I Darken by Kiersten White

Rating 7.0/10
What really makes this novel shine is the characterisation.

If you’re an Arya Stark junky yearning for a feisty heroine to fill the gaps between the next Martin novel and the Game of Thrones TV show, then look no further because And I Darken is the answer to your prayers!

Vlad Tepes is vovoide (military governor) of Wallachia, a vassal state of the Ottoman Empire. He has three children: Mircea, the eldest, Lada (Ladislav Dragwlya), his eldest daughter and Radu, his youngest son.

Lada grows up a wild, tough and headstrong girl with balls of solid steel, a defiant and stubborn attitude and a love of fighting. Her younger brother, Radu, is more sensitive, a schemer and scholar rather than his Xena-like older sister. As they grow up, it falls to Lada to stand up for her weaker, younger sibling.

As their thirteenth birthday looms the children are taken to the court of the Ottoman sultan Murad II and left as hostages to ensure the loyalty of their father, Vlad, and continued vassalage of Wallachia.

The children, however, are treated well. Though prisoners, they are given a comprehensive education and Radu starts to lean towards Ottoman culture and Islam, while Lada is free to pursue her love of combat and war by training with the Ottoman Janissaries – Turkey’s elite soldiers.

Both children befriend Mehmet II, Murad’s youngest son, and then the adventures really take off as our heroes and heroine juggle their political loyalties to their homelands with their tempestuous friendships.

Lada wants Wallachia to be free of the Ottoman yoke while Radu, who has fallen in love with Mehmet, wants to remain with him and devote himself to Islam and Ottoman culture. Young Mehmet seeks to be a strong and capable sultan like his father Murad. What follows is full of adventure, blood and war as the kids struggle to achieve their ambitions!

 There’s a lot to like about And I Darken. The backdrop of Romania/Hungary and the Ottoman Empire during the late medieval period and the house of Vlad Tepes provides fascinating material for the plot and White does an excellent job of bringing the period to life with her vivid descriptions of both Wallachian and Turkish medieval life.

She also avoids the temptation of getting bogged down in the horrific legend of Vlad the Impaler and instead focuses on a little known aspect of the count’s life – his family, specifically his children.

The cruelty of both Wallachian society and the Ottoman world are seen through the eyes of our protagonists – Lada, Radu and Mehmet, but so is the splendor of the era especially when the action moves to the Ottoman court. But what really makes this novel shine is the characterisation.

We watch while Lada and Radu develop into a pair of unique individual each with their own gifts – Lada with her strong will and fighting capability and Radu with his keen mind and natural talent for diplomacy. Thrown together with the young sultan to be Mehmet II, we are quickly drawn into the intriguing world of Ottoman politics where our young heroes fight to survive and thrive while battling to come to terms with their own identities and demons.
 
The action moves along at just the right pace, not too fast and not like a lame horse and there’s a goodly amount of humour to give levity to the story. The fight scenes could do with a little more grit and detail but this is a minor point and in no way detracts from the quality of the writing and story.
 
And I Darken was an entertaining read and will no doubt find a home with fans of feisty female heroines in the Arya Stark mould.

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