And I Darken by Kiersten White YA fantasy book reviewsAnd I Darken by Kiersten White

We first meet Lada Dragwyla at the tender age of two years old. She is brandishing a knife. At her father. No scene could more succinctly introduce the character of our heroine: she is brutal, fierce, bordering on sociopathic. Kiersten White explained that And I Darken tells the story as if Vlad the Impaler had been born female, and what she has created is one of the most exciting and original characters in fiction that’s been seen in a very long time.

Lada’s story starts at the very beginning, in Wallachia, where she desperately tries to win the affection and respect of her father. But Lada is a girl, which means she is virtually invisible in the time of the Ottoman Empire. She has a younger brother, Radu, who could not be more different to his sister. Where Lada is ruthless and daring, Radu is gentle, sensitive, cautious. Just as Lada is yearning for the validation of her father, so too Radu tries desperately to win the respect of his sister. But Lada is only interested in the adventures she shares with her playmate Bogden; Radu is often forgotten.

UK cover

Lada loves her homeland Wallachia with a fierce reverence that others reserve for religion. But Lada and Radu are ripped from their home when their father trades them as hostages to the Ottoman Empire in a political move that places them in the palace of the Sultan. There they meet Mehmed, the Sultan’s son and the three of them — Lada, Radu and Mehmed — embark on a friendship that will shape their adult lives more significantly than they could ever imagine.

And I Darken is an ambitious tale of epic scope. We begin with Lada picking up her first knife, and see her all the way through to adulthood where she leads a band of fierce mercenaries. She is constantly coming against the restrictions of being a female, the expectations that threaten to cow her, the disadvantages of being a woman. She is amongst the most compelling and original heroines I’ve read, reminiscent of Lyra from Northern Lights (published as The Golden Compass in the U.S.) and Arya from A Game of Thrones. In fact, it is the characters that make And I Darken such a wonderful read, and this is perhaps why it’s garnered the comparisons to the SONG OF ICE AND FIRE series. Lada’s relationship with her brother Radu is tested beyond its limits as they find their footing in an unstable kingdom, and the exploration of their bond is often moving. Then there is Mehmed, who threatens to come between them both. He comes closer than anyone to being Lada’s undoing.

The tale is beautifully written. Unlike many YA offerings which often sacrifice beautiful prose for the sake of plot and placing, And I Darken manages to hold the tension whilst painting a vivid picture of the ancient Turkish Empire. It is impossible not to feel deeply involved in the story and it is quite probably the best book you’ll read this year.


Now I Rise Kindle Edition by Kiersten White  (Author)

Publication date: June 28, 2016. This vividly rendered novel reads like HBO’s Game of Thrones . . . if it were set in the Ottoman Empire. Ambitious in scope and intimate in execution, the story’s atmospheric setting is rife with political intrigue, with a deftly plotted narrative driven by fiercely passionate characters. Fans of Victoria Aveyard’s THE RED QUEEN, Kristin Cashore’s GRACELING, and Sabaa Tahir’s AN EMBER IN THE ASHES won’t want to miss this visceral, immersive, and mesmerizing novel, the first in a trilogy. NO ONE EXPECTS A PRINCESS TO BE BRUTAL. And Lada Dragwlya likes it that way. Ever since she and her gentle younger brother, Radu, were wrenched from their homeland of Wallachia and abandoned by their father to be raised in the Ottoman courts, Lada has known that being ruthless is the key to survival. She and Radu are doomed to act as pawns in a vicious game, an unseen sword hovering over their every move. For the lineage that makes them special also makes them targets. Lada despises the Ottomans and bides her time, planning her vengeance for the day when she can return to Wallachia and claim her birthright. Radu longs only for a place where he feels safe. And when they meet Mehmed, the defiant and lonely son of the sultan, who’s expected to rule a nation, Radu feels that he’s made a true friend—and Lada wonders if she’s finally found someone worthy of her passion. But Mehmed is heir to the very empire that Lada has sworn to fight against—and that Radu now considers home. Together, Lada, Radu, and Mehmed form a toxic triangle that strains the bonds of love and loyalty to the breaking point. From New York Times bestselling author Kiersten White comes the first book in a dark, sweeping new series in which heads will roll, bodies will be impaled . . . and hearts will be broken.


  • Ray McKenzie

    RACHAEL "RAY" MCKENZIE, with us since December 2014, was weaned onto fantasy from a young age. She grew up watching Studio Ghibli movies and devoured C.S. Lewis’ CHRONICLES OF NARNIA not long after that (it was a great edition as well -- a humongous picture-filled volume). She then moved on to the likes of Pullman’s HIS DARK MATERIALS trilogy and adored The Hobbit (this one she had on cassette -- those were the days). A couple of decades on, she is still a firm believer that YA and fantasy for children can be just as relevant and didactic as adult fantasy. Her firm favourites are the British greats: Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams and Neil Gaiman, and she’s recently discovered Ben Aaronovitch too. Her tastes generally lean towards Urban Fantasy but basically anything with compelling characters has her vote.