And I Darken
by Kiersten White
read from October 13th to 30th
Goodreads rating: ★★★★☆
actual rating: 3.75/5
rating explained: Overall, I really enjoyed And I Darken. However, there were also things I didn’t like.
diversity: Queer men (main character) and women (side characters), Muslims
trigger warnings: attempted rape, violence and murder
It was written in the stars that I was going to like And I Darken: multiple point of views, third person perspective, character-driven and queer characters!
This book was so refreshing compared to most Young Adult Fantasies (well, actually it’s a retelling or historical fiction, but it is being sold as a fantasy). The main female character is not pretty, nor is she a special snowflake and most importantly, there is no love triangle! Well, two people have a crush on the same person, but that doesn’t really count.
I tend to dislike protagonist who are morally grey or outright villains. I didn’t have those problems with Lada. She experiences a lot of sexism, but I love that it is actually addressed. She realises it’s not fair that she is being treated differently because she is a woman. At one point, someone attempts to rape her. I’m so happy she saved herself, not e.g. Mehmed. Having said that, it didn’t have a lot of impact on her, which makes me think that it shouldn’t have been included. Yes, it is realistic, but it’s also very difficult to read and I wish we knew how Lada felt about it.
I’m all for badass female characters, but why does that lead to zero female friendships?! There are as good as none in And I Darken! I hate how Lada looks at other girls and that she hates Mehmed’s wife for no reason at all. Don’t blame the girl; blame him for marrying her!
Which leads me to Mehmed. I did not like him. Thankfully, he was not a point of view character, but the main characters’ decisions do revolve around him. He has no respect for his harem. But when he needs some action, they are good enough. Furthermore, he is very possessive when it comes to Lada.
I know I should be careful here, and not judge harems too harshly. I don’t judge the women who are in a harem, I actually enjoy reading about them, but I have problems with people who visit them. It’s not an equal ‘relationship’. The women are purely used for sex and – for lack of a better word – breeding.
Clearly, I didn’t like him, and neither do I understand why Lada and Radu care about him so much. They constantly have to save him. Furthermore, he would be a bad ruler, killing thousands of people to achieve his dream of conquering Constantinople.
Due to all of this, I didn’t really care about Mehmed and Lada as an item.
Very early on, I knew Radu was going to be my favourite character. Even though I liked Lada, I looked forward to Radu’s chapters much more. He is so precious, so sweet, yet so cunning too.
Before I read this story, I knew it was going to feature LGBTQ-characters. I did not know who was going to be queer though. I quickly realised it was going to be Radu. Not because of the way he looked at other boys, but because of his characterization. He is considered weak, cries a lot… It’s completely okay to break the stereotype of what is considered ‘manly’, though on the other hand, it such a stereotypical portrayal of gay men.
Another reason why this book is unique, is the sibling relationship. Lada and Radu are equals when it comes to point of views, which almost never happens. Certainly, there are many books that focus on the relationship between siblings, like The Hunger Games and The Young Elites, but one of them was a side character.
I’m rooting for Lada and Radu and I hope they can become best friends at one point. Their relationship is very complicated and they clearly love each other, but a lot of things were left unsaid too.
That brings me to the miscommunication trope. If Lada, Mehmed and Radu had talked, they would have known who was going to betray them. As a result, things were predictable for the reader.
The pacing was very odd too. We see them plan something and the next thing we know, their plans succeeded. We didn’t get to see much action, which made this quite boring at times. It was ‘tell’ instead of ‘show’. I really don’t understand this. Important events are completely glossed over. A lot of time passes in the story (years!), yet it’s still uneventful for the reader. Furthermore, whenever there was a mystery, it was often revealed the very next page. How anti-climactic.
As a result, it took me over two weeks to finish And I Darken. I was never in the mood to pick it up (though I had a hard time putting it down). Honestly, the fact that I am in a reading slump and DNF’ed most books I picked up in October, certainly has something to do with that. Still, I do not want to re-read it before the sequel Now I Rise comes out. Hopefully, that won’t be necessary.
Because so much time passed in the story, I had no idea how old the characters were anymore. It takes off when they are children, but they must almost be adults now.
When they were thirteen though, they were already more cunning than military and political leaders with tons of experience. That bothered me; it’s completely unrealistic, especially because they weren’t raised to become leaders themselves.
There are some characters I hope will become more prominent in Now I Rise, like Huma, who is so cunning and sly, like Cersei Lannister. Sure, she might take things too far (and she certainly did, it was hard to stomach at times), but it is so much fun reading about strong female characters like her. More importantly, I want to read even more about Fatima and Nazira!
I love that the author included two takes on Islam: Lada, who refuses to learn anything about it and Radu, who has completely embraced the religion and even converted. I thought that was a great way of showing us the beauty of Islam, while also discussing the prejudice towards it.
It’s not necessary to be familiar with the story of Vlad the Impaler before starting this. I wasn’t and could follow everything perfectly. Having said that, retelling history is great, but it’s also unfortunate that we already know how it is going to end. At least when it comes to Constantinople. If you are familiar with Turkey’s history or the Byzantine Empire, you’ll know whether or not Mehmed is going to succeed in achieving his dream.
Finally, I just want to mention how ridiculous the paperback copy is. Thankfully, I own the hardcover; but is that supposed to be Lada? It is mentioned many times that she is not beautiful, so why put that woman on the cover? If this ever gets an adaptation, I bet the actress is going to be stunning too. That would be unfortunate.
conclusion: Anyone who loves character-driven books with plenty of political intrigue, needs to pick up And I Darken! It’s quite boring at times, but so unique and diverse compared to most Young Adult books these days!