Ever since I read this particular quote taken from And I Darken, I’ve been enchanted:
“On our wedding night,” she said, “I will cut out your tongue and swallow it. Then both tongues that spoke our marriage vows will belong to me, and I will be wed only to myself. You will most likely choke to death on your own blood, which will be unfortunate, but I will be both husband and wife and therefore not a widow to be pitied.”
And also that beautiful cover didn’t hurt.
This review contains *spoilers*.
And I Darken starts out with Lada and Radu’s childhood; introducing their vicious father and broken mother.
Can I just say that, for whatever unknown reason, I absolutely loved their mother. I cannot understand why exactly other than that her determination to escape felt so crucial for me.
“I want to go home,” she whispered. “Back to Moldavia. Please let me.”
Vasilissa’s tiny frame trembled. Then she dropped to her knees, lowered her head, and took Vlad’s hand in her own. “Please. Please, I beg of you. Let me go home.”
Vlad put out his other hand and stroked Vasilissa’s lank, greasy hair. Then he grabbed it, wrenching her head to the side. She cried out, but he pulled tighter, forcing her to stand. He placed his lips against her ear. “You are the weakest creature I have ever known. Crawl back to your hole and hide there. Crawl!” He threw her down, and, sobbing, she crawled from the room.”
I truly felt for Vasilissa. And I don’t know if this is terrible to admit (because she’s their mother), but I was extremely glad when Vasilissa managed to escape his cruelty.
In the meanwhile, we skip a few years to learn the complications set in Radu and Lada’s relationship.
“He was so tired and so scared, and she had saved him. “Thank you.” He stumbled toward her with arms outstretched. When he was hurting, his nurse folded him into herself, sealing him away from the world. He wanted—needed—that now.
Lada hit him in the stomach. He doubled over in pain, sinking to his knees. She knelt next to him, grasping him by the ears. “Do not thank me. All I did was teach them to fear me. How does that help you? Next time you hit first, you hit harder, you make certain that your name means fear and pain. I will not be here to save you again.”
We slowly learn that Lada does care deeply for her brother, though, in a very particular way i.e scares him away and mocks him, but deep down couldn’t bear to leave him in harm’s way.
“When she thought he was sleeping, she crept into his room. Radu did not sleep much, always awake and worrying over something. But he lay as still as possible, keeping his breathing even, curious as to what she would do.
She sat beside his bed for a long while. Finally, she put a hand on his shoulder and whispered, “You are mine.”
Radu had been thinking about the way Lada sounded when she told him that Costin had escaped the river. The tone of her voice, the lack of an edge. He was almost certain she had lied. He fell asleep, wrapped in the secure warmth of her next to him and nagged by guilt over how happy the day had made him.
Still made him.”
Okay, so this has been on my mind for awhile, but did Costin survive or not? (The answer is crucial for my peace.)
But circling back to the main storyline, complications arise when their father abandons them to be raised in the Ottoman courts for…their education.
“Radu looked to Lada, trying to put together what he was hearing. Lada understood perfectly well what this man was saying. Their lives were valuable only insofar as their father did what he was told. And instead of just taking Radu, Halil Pasha had known what her father valued the most.
All those years working toward her father’s love and approval had led her here.
It had made her a prisoner.”
And before we move on, I just wanted to mention that Lada and Radu are such phenomenally fleshed-out characters, I’m still in awe.
And also, this book mentions periods, which, finally. I think this is only my second fantasy book that mentions this completely natural process that almost everyone goes through but doesn’t talk about in books.
“When her nurse had told her she would not have to worry about marriage until her monthly courses started, it had been a comfort. Until the morning Lada awoke covered in blood, in her enemy’s house.”
Yes, this is real, this is me.
I know I keep going off course in my review, but it was important to mention the above.
In Edirne, Lada and Radu encounter the son of the devil himself. Mehmed the Second, son of Murad. 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.
“How do you do that?”
“Make people talk to you. Is it because you are a boy?”
Radu knew she envied him his ability to persuade people to trust him. She looked sharp, contrary, and sly. Hers was the face of a fox raiding the livestock. Radu’s was the face of an angel. But it hurt Radu that she thought it was a trick. Did anyone ever truly like him, or was she right? Did his face and tongue merely fool them into thinking they did?”
“People respond to kindness, Lada. They trust a smile more than a promise that you will leave them choking on their own blood.”
Lada snorted. “Yes, but my promise is more sincere than your smiles.”
She was right, of course. It had been a lifetime since his smile felt like anything more than a desperate and false ploy. He sniffed, trying to keep the mood light, keep his sister calm. “But no one knows that.”
“Someday they will, Radu. Someday they will.”
But when news arrives that Mehmed’s older brothers have died, a twisted turmoil ensues. Mehmed’s father gives him the title of sultan under the banner of new peace – with his son being only twelve at the time.
“Mehmed looked up at her with tears in his eyes. “You do not understand. The courts—they will never accept me. I was never supposed to be sultan. They will devour me. I have no allies, no one on my side.”
Lada smiled viciously, put on her most mocking voice. “So now you would prove me correct. I thought you had your faith as your greatest strength.”
Mehmed’s face hardened. “My faith is my strength.”
“Then you have your god on your side. What is a court full of sycophants and rivals against that? Wrap yourself in the armor of your faith. Take your throne.”
He follows Lada’s advice and ascends to the throne.
And so we slowly learn that though Mehmed was sultan, he was not in power. But with the help of Lada and her knowledge on various war tactics, he might just make it out alive on the other side.
“She had to keep them safe from Murad’s wrath. She had to turn Mehmed’s rule to their advantage, but she did not know how.”
We continue to have a few bumps on the road:
- Assassins were after them.
- Lada had killed a man.
- They ran to the harem to hide for the night.
- In the harem, Huma (Mehmed’s mother) instructed Radu and Lada to act as if nothing had changed, but to draw no attention to themselves.
- Halil Pasha has his own interpretation of what should and shouldn’t happen to Mehmed.
- Lada and Radu betraying Mehmed in order to keep him and his future as sultan safe.
We then have a two-year time jump to Amasya:
Lada, Radu, and Mehmed are a little more grown up and comfortable in their skin.
“Without Radu, she would have gone mad living here. In the two years since they left Edirne, some of the distance between them had closed. They shared blood and secrets enough to know that without each other, they had no one.
It was something.
Mehmed was the third part of their bond. He considered them his truest friends and only allies. The guilt of knowing better made Lada softer, broke down the anger she had kept up for so long.
They were safe here. That was also something.”
And a lot of other intense things happened during their adolescence, I mean I’m still trying to come to terms with all that what went down.
But the one that my heart enjoyed the most was: Mehmed and Lada.
When they met up at their secret place, I was overjoyed.
“Did you miss me?” he teased.
Sincerity betrayed her, tumbling out of her mouth in a whisper before she could rein it in. “I did.”
He put his hands on her waist, as he had done so many times last summer, pulling her under, pushing her, playing. But this time he left his hands there. They were warm through the thin material of her underclothes. His voice was husky, lower than it had been. “I missed you, too.”
Damn you, butterflies.
“He pulled her closer, and Lada warred within herself. Her inclination was to push him away, to cut him with a clever, sharp remark, to find something, anything to do with her hands, her worthless hands that floated uselessly at her sides.
Huma’s words echoed in her head. Set him free. Did she truly hold him that way?
Did she want to?
As though heeding her desperation but heedless of the confusion and fear ringing through her like the clash of blades, her hands lifted and grabbed the back of Mehmed’s head, tangling in his wet hair. And then her lips, from which nothing but poison had ever dropped, found his and were baptized with sweet fire, reborn into something new and wild. His mouth answered hers, lips parting, his teeth catching hers, her tongue meeting his.
It felt like fighting.
It felt like falling.
It felt like dying.
“Mehmed?” Radu called, his voice muffled and indistinct, as if Lada’s head were still underwater. She and Mehmed paused their mouth-to-mouth combat, and Lada realized her legs were wrapped around his waist, his hands around the backs of her thighs, their chests pressed together.”
I was really hesitant at first about their romance, but I would be lying if I said that they didn’t make me swoon.
But it did feel really painful when we switched POVs to see Radu find out that the person he valued most in the world didn’t feel the same.
“He wanted Mehmed to look at him the way he had looked at Lada.
He wanted Mehmed to kiss him the way he had kissed Lada.
He wanted to be Lada.
No, he did not. He wanted to be himself, and he wanted Mehmed to love him for being himself. His question, the question of Mehmed, was finally answered, piercing him and leaving him shaking, silent, on the floor.
He did not want this answer.”
Lada and Radu break off after this incident, and many others that occurred over the years… betrayal, defeat, bitterness. And it was damn hard to read.
They have saved each other so many times when no one else would, and it was heartbreaking to see them fall apart from one another.
And then also Lada and Mehmed’s honeymoon stage turns a little sour.
“You are staying here!”
Lada peeled off his hand and took a step back. “Why?”
He was suddenly fascinated by the bruised flowers in his hand. “I need to leave someone I trust in charge of the city.”
“Anyone can do that! Nothing of value will be left here!”
Mehmed’s gaze was heavy when it finally found her. “Nothing of value?”
Understanding hit Lada. She ripped the flowers from his hand and threw them to the ground. “I will not stay behind to watch your brat! I am no nursemaid!”
Mehmed blinked rapidly, then shook his head. “Lada, I was not talking about my son. Do you think he is the only thing here I value?”
“You! I will not take you into battle! You have no idea what the conditions are like, no idea how many ways there are to die.”
“I can handle myself.”
“But what about me? What would I do if something happened to you? I have to keep you safe!”
She pushed his chest, sending him stumbling, vase shards crunching beneath his boots. “I am not something to be kept!”
I loved this scene because it reminded me of:That last line is so damn empowering.
Mehmed leaves Lada for the following months, keeping her furious and, though she won’t admit it, in despair. So when she receives a letter with Radu’s signature saying that Mehmed has fallen ill, she is ready to leave everyone behind.
“And where is the devil to take me?”
Lada whirled around, heart racing. Mehmed leaned in the doorway, mirth twisting the new form the siege had carved his weary face into. He looked haggard, his cheeks stubbled, dark circles beneath his eyes showing weeks of poor sleep. He crossed the room to her, arms open.
“You died!” She pushed him away, staring at his face. He was changed, but it was him. Alive. Healthy.
“Did I? That is disappointing. I was very much looking forward to being alive for our reunion. Though I feared you would kill me.”
Damn, was I reliefed when he showed up.
And I knew without a doubt that Lazar had sent that dreaded letter – for reasons I did not yet understand.
Until I did… and damn, I did not see that ending coming. Everything that happened with Lada, Mehmed, and Radu left me feeling both conflicted and proud. How they had all grown.
“Well, are you ready, Lada Dragwlya, daughter of the dragon?”
Fire burned in her heart, and her wounded soul spread out, casting a shadow like wings across her country. This was hers. Not because of her father. Not because of Mehmed. Because the land itself had claimed her as its own.
“Not Dragwlya,” she said. “Lada Dracul. I am no longer the daughter of the dragon.” She lifted her chin, sights set on the horizon. “I am the dragon.”
I need to know what will happen to this trio because Kiersten White sure knows how to keep me on edge.
I’m only certain of two things for the next book:
It would hurt, and I would need to be strong.
ARC kindly provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.