Mixed Feeling About This Historical Gender-Bend

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Title: And I Darken
Author: Kiersten White
Type: Fiction
Genre: Goodreads has it listed as a YA Fantasy, but it seems more like a gender-swapped Historical Fiction
Length: 475 pgs
Published by: Delacorte Press
Pub date: June 28th, 2016
Format: Hard cover
Source: I purchased this book from Amazon.

My Rating: ★★★★☆

See other ratings and reviews on Goodreads, then, checkout the author’s website!


The short version: For the most part, I enjoyed Kiersten White’s book. A sort of gender swap historical fiction, And I Darken kept me wanting more from beginning to end.

The long version (My synopsis):

Fierce Lada and her timid younger brother, Radu, have grown up in Wallachia, desperately trying to earn the approval of their emotionally absent father, prince of the country. So when they are given to the Ottoman Empire as ransom to ensure their father’s cooperation, their priorities shift. Lada, determined to hate her new home, lashes out at anyone and anything who tries to make her an Ottoman. Radu, on the other hand, accepts this new world, at last finding a sense of belonging he has never experienced before. But when they befriend the son of their captor, their loyalties to their country and to each other will be tested, and neither one will emerge the same.

I’m still trying to work out exactly how I feel about this book. I first picked it up because the cover is BEAUTIFUL. I bought it because a trusted reader friend recommended it to me, and the synopsis sounded pretty intriguing. But once I started reading the story, I developed very mixed feelings.

Let’s start with the good. I really enjoyed the writing style. It kept me completely engaged in the plot and the characters, and, much like our main female protagonist, I was constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop. Even when there was very little action, I still felt like I was on the edge of my seat, because I knew something was going to happen to Lada or Radu or Mehmed.

Brad and me
My little bro and I at about Lada and Radu’s age.

And, despite myself, I really did care about these characters. I found them to be incredibly realistic, with flaws and conflicts and dimensions that made them all seem like real people. Mehmed, despite his confidence and passion, is still blind to the true feelings of the people around him. Lada, for all her fierceness, still goes into shock when she first kills a man, and is deeply affected each time she kills after that. Radu, for all the anger and resentment he holds against Lada, still chooses her as his sister above everyone else. And the relationship between the two siblings is another aspect I really enjoyed. I have a younger brother myself, and I could see our sibling-hood (?) reflected in Lada and Radu (granted, we didn’t have such high stakes). If you’re someone who hates the “too-perfect protagonist,” you won’t find them here. But it all worked to help me understand and often root for the characters.

But this is where my feelings about the book start to get a little muddled. There were times when I despised these characters. There were so many times when I wanted to just punch Lada for being such an awful person to the people she cares about. Her whole mentality can be summed up in one of her quotes: “A dragon burned everything around herself until it was purified in ash.” And Lada certainly tried to burn down just about everything, from her relationships to her own happiness. Sometimes it was in the name of self defense, or defending her brother, or even pursuing her own goals, but I still just wanted to shake her.

That being said, I didn’t mind the times when I disliked a character, in fact, it made me care about them even more. For me, it was okay to hate Lada for a few chapters, because I understood her. She sort of explains herself when talking about the stars: “If they were not burning, we would never know they were there.” I understood her desperation to be visible, her desire to be seen as an equal, and her need for self-determination. Even in the times when I couldn’t stand her, I was still on her side, hoping she could find a way to achieve all of those things for herself.

And I felt the same way about her brother. For at least half the book, I just wanted to shout at Radu to grow a backbone and stand up for himself already. But I understood the lack of confidence that comes from being compared to siblings, and constantly found wanting. And I still wanted the story to end with his happiness.

I only really had two issues with the book, and one is more of a personal preference than an actual problem. I desperately wanted even just two or three chapters from Mehmed’s perspective. There were times when I wondered how he could be so blind or naive, and I wanted a little of the same insight into his mind that we get with Lada and Radu.

My other big issue was the ending. I felt completely dissatisfied with it, and it didn’t do anything to make me want to read the next book (but I know I probably will). It was like Lada’s and Radu’s lives were finally coming back together, they had just gotten to a place where they realized how much they mattered to each other, and Lada decided to destroy it all. Again. [It also kind of bothers me that she gave it all up to go back to Wallachia. She glorifies what amounts to a piece of property above her own friends and family. She has no allies in Wallachia, and no one waiting for her, but she still decides to leave her only family to go back to a home she probably doesn’t even remember right, given that she was a mostly naive twelve-tear-old when she left.(hide spoiler)]

Despite the few issues I had, And I Darken was an overall great read, and I already have the sequel pre-ordered.

Overall, I gave this book 4 stars:

4-stars


Thanks for powering through my book-nerding! If you’ve read or are planning to read this book, let me know why and what you thought in the comments below!

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3 thoughts on “Mixed Feeling About This Historical Gender-Bend

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