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Set in the Ottoman Empire, two Wallachia royalty are left in the sultan’s courts as collateral for the army their father needs to retain his throne. Princess Lada and Prince Radu couldn’t be more different. She’s all ruthless warrior and he’s all charismatic courtier. In this new place Radu finds his religion, his home and his fight. Lada on the other hand bucks, kicks and bits fighting her assimilation into the empire, despite her growing feelings for their mutual friend and love, the sultan’s son, Mehmed.
Told in alternating POVs between the two siblings, a complete picture is woven together of life as prisoners of the Ottoman Empire and the Sultan in And I Darken. Their friendship with the Sultan’s spare heir further complicates their relationship and their future. You needed the dual POVs for this story to work. There was a constant tension to the story due to the conflict of the siblings to each other and to their environment that kept pushing you to keep reading. It also helped stabilize each personality to have the opposite type to contrast to, making Lada more ruthless and Radu more cunning. While there is a love triangle it isn’t your classic hot boys after an ugly girl, and adds a lot of tension between our siblings!
The world is nothing special but at the same time the writing gave an authenticity to the time and place that transported you back to the Ottoman Empire. It’s not necessarily an authentic retelling of history but it definitely resonated with setting. This isn’t an overused setting either so it makes for an enchanting change to what we normally expect and experience. You felt the contrast of Wallachia with its forests and rocks and heavy Christianity to the Ottoman’s desert and heat and Islamic enlightenment. In fact religion is relied on heavily to create atmosphere in this new world. We see Radu soak up Islam like a sponge and of course, contrast Lada greatly who will have none of it! At times the religion felt pushed on me, like I was being told its not good to be religious at all but if I had to be Islam was the best choice. It felt very odd and too much to me at times. Still these feelings were kept within Radu’s POV so you were able to accept this view of the Islam religion very easily. Also religion plays a big part in Mehmed’s life and why Lada can’t commit so it was necessary to the story.
The powerhouse of the story was totally the siblings. Lada was my favorite from the very beginning:
“She was contrary and vicious and the meanest child the nurse had ever cared for…In Lada she saw a spark, a passionate, fierce glimmer that refused to hide or be dimmed.”
Lada drives the beginning of the book with her anger and passion and brutality. She made me care little able the fact we wandered around aimlessly building up the personalities and the back history of our two main characters. I loved when she saved her brother: You are mine. How her own actions severed her friendship and how Radu was forced to find his role in the world due to two bullies. Radu at first was just a nice contrast to Lada. At times you needed some relief from the driving power of that girl that the comparatively weak but cunning Radu was a nice change. We sneakily were lead by Lada to love and despise Radu just as much as she loved and despised him.
I wasn’t nearly a fan of the Ottoman storyline. Lada seemed to “sit around” training to be a warrior yet not doing anything. There are some loose plot through here that Lada takes part in but it really was Radu’s show. It’s all about his machinations, his feelings, his rivalry with Lada. Lada provided the counterpoint to Radu this time around. We really see the love / hate relationship that these two siblings share during this time. Radu drives the story and Lada languishes, the only one she can really grasp onto in this hot, sandy country are the Janissaries she trains with and… Mehmed. Yet something keeps her from committing totally. And it was hard for me to take too… all Mehmed’s children that he was getting on his harem. If he loves Lada and only Lada, then what is up with all the children? And Radu started to really be hard to take, moping and whining about what he can’t have. Everyone, EVERYONE had some unrequited love that refuses to return their feelings! GROW UP! While I would have loved to see Lada give in to Mehmed at one point then withdraw, she remained true to who she was and I respect that! I do like the part she plays at the end of the book with Mehmed (always Mehmed)! And I wasn’t surprised by the ending. Bogden actually was a secret favorite character of mine and I was so glad to see him again and I look forward to him in the next books.
There are many things in this book that makes it not for a teenager to my mind. It’s so hard for one. I mean life is hard enough, do we need to train our children to be this hard as well? Don’t we want some hope and light in the literature our children read? If you are bothered by homosexual or lesbian feelings and urges being discussed, pre-martial petting without penetration or multiple sexual partners then be warned, this book has, talks about or shows all of these. I know I don’t want my teenager reading about any of these at this point in their lives. The story was very adult in this way. BUT If you are an adult I highly recommend this book! It was woven well and while it languishes in places makes for a compelling (if depressing) read. Lada makes it totally worth your while!!
BOTTOM LINE: Lada the Strong, Lada the Brutal, Lada the Warrior.
Thank you to Netgalley and Random House Children’s Publishing for the early copy of this book.