review: AND I DARKEN


Title: And I Darken

Author: Kiersten White

Pub info: June 2016, Random House Children's

Genre & Audience: historical {alternative} fiction/YA

Subjects/themes: siblings, power, identity, inheritance

Shelf: { e- ARC provided by the publisher in exchange for honest feedback}

Verdict: 4.5 / 5 stars

And I Darken is an alternate history re-imagining the notorious Vlad the Impaler as a girl--Lada. Young and ruthless Lada initially wishes for the approval of her father, but when she and her brother, Radu, are sent to the sultan's court as something akin to collateral, she must navigate the twists and brutal turns of politics and eventually, love.

I’ll start by saying this: And I Darken is a tense, visceral read. And I loved every page of it.

Historical fiction can be a wonderful gateway in a child’s education. It welcomes the student to learn, to be inquisitive, to be curious—and to understand that these people who have been dead for hundreds of years lived and breathed and made choices, fought, loved, won, and lost.

Give kids a story, and the history would follow.

It’s the most important lesson I learned as a first-year teacher. Numbers, statistics, and dates can be a wasteland, especially if the student has little to no conception of historical events to begin with. But a story? With characters, fictional, or historical? That hooks them. They become invested.

And that is exactly why a book like And I Darken is so important.

I’m in my twenties but as I read And I Darken, I remembered those first thrilling moments of cracking open a book at fourteen. I was there with Lada. I felt her frustrations with her brother. It can be a struggle to understand those closest to us, and her struggle to connect with her brother I found to be one of the best things about the book. I have siblings of my own; I am not the ruthless fighter that Lada is, but still I felt her through and through.

Lada’s wants and desires shone like the brightest star in the sky throughout the narrative—and it felt all the more gutting and real as those desires become more conflicted as she aged. What Lada wants most seems simple—her birthright of Wallachia.  Lada is bold. Lada is unapologetic. But Lada also has to learn how to navigate the world.

Once she is older, Lada encounters more politics (or rather, politics encounter her) and though the slower pace of those plot developments might deter some, I found them fascinating and taut. The author doesn’t shy away from the brutality of the age, and the stakes that Lada must carry only increase with her age.

 Add the rich settings and not-often depicted setting, and you’ve got one heck of a formidable book. The writing was lovely. I didn’t need to take breaks to digest the words.

And taking a break from reading? Not a chance.