Expected Publication: June 28th, 2016 by Delacorte Press
NO ONE EXPECTS A PRINCESS TO BE BRUTAL.I want to start by saying: this is a fantastic book. The writing is incredible and descriptive and exactly the kind of style I love. The detail given to fleshing out the characters and developing them through the years is better than anything I've ever read before. And I Darken sees Lada and her brother from infancy to young adulthood, and Kiersten White does such an incredible job showing their growth and their personalities and developing her world.
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.
And Lada, of course, is delightful. Delightfully insane. I've never read of a protagonist like her. As a child, she constantly bites people - hard. She delights in their pain, she's violent, she's bloodthirsty. And not in a cute tormented villain way. She's actually pretty creepy. She threatens to tear a man's tongue out and let him drown in his own blood, and I have no doubt that she would do it because she's a true badass. She has a very complicated relationship with her brother, Radu, who is meek and cautious and afraid but eventually develops into a man who can read and evaluate situations, can fool people so easily with his charisma. Occasionally she tries to protect him in her own way, but her own way involves beating him up so he'll get the message - he needs to be hard, tough, to survive in this world. And because Lada is so different from any other character I've read, I found her amazing. She defies any and every stereotype about females, both present and past. And the way Radu is written makes it impossible not to empathize with him, especially as a young child.
Basically, Kiersten White writes some damn good characters. (There's also Mehmed, who some people will find a very complex character and probably enjoy. He has a harem, which is, you know, whatever, appropriate for the times, but the way he talks about his harem and then the way he talks about his feelings for Lada pretty much blinded me to any of his potentially redeeming qualities, because, you know, gross.)
But I, personally, could not enjoy this book. We spend so much time on Lada's childhood. The politics of the world started to flood the book, and they weren't even remotely interesting to me. It dragged and dragged and dragged until I kind of wanted to cry because I was so bored. I can't even begin to tell you how much skimming I did. And it kills me, because the writing is phenomenal, and this world is so rich and detailed. But I just couldn't do it.
I'm not a person who is solely focused on plot-driven books. I can often forgive weaker plots if I'm so attached to the characters. I could read an entire Harry Potter novel without any of the danger or death - literally just all of them going to class, doing homework, reading the newspaper, whatever. I would read an entire novel about Finnick Odair taking naps and having nightmares, I DON'T KNOW. The point is that I love characters more than I love plot. But it felt like there was no plot here at all. It felt . . . directionless. It was all about the characters and the world building. And I think that's going to be great for a lot of people, but it really was not for me. I kept waiting for something, anything, to happen, and I never really got my wish.
tl;dr: My rating of this really isn't fair, because part of me knows that And I Darken is an incredible book. The writing style itself is amazing, the world building is so carefully crafted and detailed, and the characters are so compelling and unique. But there's so much focus on these things and hardly any plot. I think everyone should give this a try, but I found myself just wishing for the book to end. 2 stars.