Thursday, May 12, 2016

and i darken: stardust arc reviews

AND I DARKEN (The Conqueror's Saga #1)
by Kiersten White




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.

full review under the cut!

  let me start by saying... yes I did put both the US and UK covers... because that UK cover is something haunting and beautiful and I LOVE IT. 

I received a copy of this brutally gorgeous novel from Delacorte Press through Netgalley, which I was unbelievably excited about. If you are unfamiliar with this novel, which is going to be one of the most talked about books of the summer, mark my words, here's the gist. Kiersten White took Vlad the Impaler (here's his wiki page, if you need to brush up, like I did), who was this totally brutal but also awesome ruler of this country called Wallachia during the 15th century, and turned him into a girl. A vicious girl named Lada who is one of the most complicated female characters that I've ever read. This book is about her life, and her younger brother Radu's life, from birth until they are sixteen and seventeen, I believe. It is a kickass historical fiction novel that takes history and asks a "what if" question that drives the plot of this novel, and I absolutely ADORED it. 

because I have a ton of things to say about this, I'm just going to make a list of things that stuck out to me and hope that I can get to everything before this becomes so long that you just stop reading. 

1. The world building is A+. The book begins upon Lada's birth, which is extremely useful for letting the reader come into the world of this novel. It takes place from the 1430's to the 1450's in eastern Europe, which is a time and place that I personally am not super familiar with, but it doesn't end up mattering because Kiersten White has done a wonderful job of holding your hand just long enough for you to get comfortable with strange proper nouns, empire names, and customs. The majority of the action in this novel happens in Edirne, the captial of the Ottoman Empire of the time, but there are several other locations that are just as wonderfully developed, so I never had trouble picturing any of them. Because we start out with Lada from her birth, we are able to learn everything that she learns, about the country, about religion, etc, with her, which is helpful for getting acclimated. I could just tell that these settings were extremely well researched and thought out, because everything was very seamless and rich in its imagining, which helped add to, instead of distract from, the plot. 

2. Perspective is important. Something that I didn't realize going in was that half of this novel is from Lada's perspective, but the other half is from her brother Radu's. This wasn't annoying or bothersome, I actually really enjoyed Radu's voice, it just was not something that I realized before starting this novel. I think that the dual perspective is actually quite necessary, because there are many times that Radu and Lada are separated, simply because of their natures, and having them both available to tell the story makes the perspective of the reader wider. And somehow we are, in the end, able to relate both to Radu's sweet, faithful, bookish nature, as well as Lada's harsh, calculating, and determined one. 

3. Thirteen Year Olds are ruthless. Something that LITERALLY everyone who has spent time around thirteen year olds will know. (the politics of middle school are as cutthroat as any battlefield) In the arc of this plot, lots of things have to be set up before we actually get to the climax. For example, Lada and Radu must be given up as political pawns by their weak-minded father, and we must be able to see their respective reactions to this betrayal. Secondly, Lada and Radu must meet and befriend Mehmed, the son of the Ottoman sultan, and earn his trust completely. And thirdly, Mehmed's claim to the throne must be established. The interesting thing is: all three of these things (and many more) happen when the main characters are just twelve or thirteen years old. I was amazed at how much of the book we spent in this time of their lives, to the point where I really did wonder if they were ever going to get to older teenhood. Again, like Radu's POV, this wasn't a bad thing, and I really actually enjoyed seeing capable and mature thirteen year olds written here, it just wasn't what I was expecting, and made the surprises in this novel even better. (also, y'all, Lada is capable of disarming and practically... or actually... killing a grown man at thirteen. you better get out of her way.) 

4. *throws rainbows at you* REPRESENTATION!!!!!! Not only racial representation, which we do have with tons of different ethnicities, but also different sexual orientations and religious beliefs. There were Christians and Muslims and Atheists, and there were straight people, gay people, lesbians, bisexual people, etc. That was one of the things that made the settings feel so real to me, was that the people populating them were extremely varied. (*ahem* just like in real life? *ahem*) I just really appreciated seeing so many different types of people represented, I just think that it made a book that could have veered into opaque territory extremely accessible for more people. 

5. Female Characters that will kick your you-know-what. There are so many different kinds of power represented in this novel. From outright physical and militant power, like Lada, to political and manipulative power, like Mehmed's mother Huma, to the power to get what you want by sacrificing something, like the sultan's concubine, Mara, to the power to live the life you are entitled to by risking everything, like Radu's friend Nazira. All of these ladies are able to use the fact that they were women, and therefore naturally discounted by the men around them, to get what they want. They are all awesome in their own way. 

6. Male characters that will surprise you. From Radu, who, by all rights, is everything that Lada should be, to Mehmed, who is able to see Lada as an equal from the very start, to Kumal, who shows Radu that, when there is nothing else, there is faith, to Vlad, Radu and Lada's father, who is weak when he should be strong. Just like the ladies in this novel are not just one thing, neither are the men, and neither should they be. Mehmed can rule an empire, and still have his heart completely shattered by someone he holds dear. Radu can be sensitive and lack the cruel streak of his sister, but can also be ruthless when he needs to be. These characters are so complicated, both male and female, and it makes for a really interesting study in opposites. 

7. Romance that is there, but not overpowering. There is a romance (if you can even call it that... like I said, it's complicated), there is unrequited love, there is forbidden love, and there are happy, content relationships, but none of these relationships overpower the real plot here, which I personally appreciated. It would not have felt true if a romance had become the most important thing, when there was so much else going on. I liked the little bit that we did see, but I liked better that it was mostly in passing that romance appeared. 

8. Political and Military intrigue that won't bore you to tears. I am not very interested in politics, just as a person in general. I try to keep up with things that are going on just so that I can do my civic duty, but it truly bores me. This extends from the real world to the fictional worlds that I read, and sometimes political machinations can lose me in a novel. However, this book was not like that. There were political maneuverings, but they were presented in a way that was exciting, and they were kept to when it was absolutely necessary to bring them up. The same goes for the militaristic aspects of the novel. They added to the story, moving the plot along, without taking away from the more personal aspects of the book. I won't give too much away, since the book has not come out yet, but let me just say there are some pretty awesome spy plans in here. 

9. Lada. I know I've talked about the characters already, but I feel like our leading lady should get a bullet point all to herself. From the time she is small enough to wield a knife, Lada has been dangerous and ruthless. Growing up as a girl in 1436 wasn't a cakewalk, especially a girl as ambitious and bloodthirsty as Lada. Throughout the book, she grows from someone who doesn't let anyone in to someone who knows that she can, even though she still doesn't like to. She bucks every single gender norm of the time, relentlessly, until people see her as a force to be reckoned with, instead of a weak girl. She is a little bit crazy, a little bit terrifying, a little bit brutal, bloodthirsty, manipulative, and a whole lot of awesome. I loved her, even though she is kind of a terrible person? Her motivations come from such a real place, and she never ever stops fighting for what she deserves, you just kind of can't help but root for her, even when what she's doing is awful. Of course I didn't agree with everything that she did, but I still cheered for her, and I still ended up loving her anyways. She's so different from any protagonist (antagonist? antihero? i don't even know) I've read before, and I can't wait to see what she gets up to next. 

10. Radu. My sweet summer child. I spent most of the book worrying about Radu's safety, and the other portion feeling so awful for the way his life turned out. Radu begins the book as a weak boy, prone to tears and afraid of anything. He grows into someone beautiful and confident, someone who harbors deep feelings for someone that he should not love. Where Lada is sharp tongued and armed with sharp weapons, Radu is silver tongued, reliant on faith and books and other people. He is so sweet, and though he loses some of that sweetness in the harsh world that he inhabits, he still manages to hold onto his loyalty, his sense of right and wrong, and his sheer likability and selflessness. I love Radu, in a totally different way than I love Lada. Their relationship, with each other, and with Mehmed, is complicated and twisted, but its amazing and so fun to read about. I just want Radu to be happy... but I don't see that happening any time soon, so I'll be sad for him until it happens. 

SO! In conclusion, this is an awesome historical fiction novel that genderbends one of the most famously ruthless figures in all of history. Add in some really solid supporting characters, assassinations, political machinations, romance, and a sibling love/hate relationship for the ages, and you've got one of the most immersive, brutal, haunting and beautiful YA books that I've read in a long time. I would definitely recommend this to anyone who is looking for a book that they can really get into this summer.



  1. I'm sold! I'll be keeping an eye our for this one. Thanks for the great review.

    1. Awesome!! I hope you end up loving this one :)

  2. I tagged you for the Infinity Dreams award! Enjoy! <3


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