A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that And I Darken is the first book in the Conquerors Saga by Kiersten White, author of the popular Paranormalcy trilogy. Set in the Ottoman Empire (15th century) and offering many details about the period, this story is based on the life of Vlad the Impaler (the inspiration for Dracula), had Vlad been a female named Lada instead. While the publisher recommends And I Darken for age 12 and up, the violence, the sexual content, the sophistication of the novel (lots of double-crossing politics), and the complexity of the characters are on even footing with books marketed to the more mature teen set of age 14 and up. The main characters Lada and Radu, at ages 11 and 12, are forced to watch executions of men impaled on poles and hung from a metal hook between the ribs. We're closest to the violence when Lada and Radu kill men themselves, with knives, swords, and strangling. Some killings are after assassination attempts. In another, Lada kills the man sexually assaulting her (clothing is partially removed, but she's not raped). There are also fistfights and sparring sessions with soldiers where Lada fights dirty; boys are whipped; some deaths with arrows and sickness during a siege; a near drowning in an icy pond; and a baby boy drowned on purpose. Expect some passionate kissing and groping, straight and gay, plus much talk about life in harems. Swearing is infrequent, and teens and adults alike do some drinking at public events.
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What's the story?
Vada and her brother Radu are abandoned by their parents at an early age. When they are only 11 and 12, their father, Vlad, travels south from Wallachia to Edirne with them, leaving their fate in the hands of the sultan. If Vlad doesn't fight to expand the Ottoman Empire, the sultan would make sure his children suffer. But after a while the sultan forgets about them, and the sultan's third son, Mehmed, takes a liking to the fierce but loyal Vada and the more sensitive, inquisitive Radu. Mehmed even invites them to the country with him and shares his tutor. Away from court they become close friends. And when Vada's not bored tormenting the tutor, she trains with the local Janissaries (soldiers) and becomes quite a fighter. It's lucky for Mehmed that she does. When Mehmed's two older brothers die and the sultan steps down, suddenly Mehmed is the sultan, a sultan with a dangerous lack of loyalties at court and among Edirne's Janissaries. Vada will have to save Mehmed's life more than once while Radu plays the charming spy and finds out who Mehmed's most dangerous foes are. But while Vada protects Mehmed and admits to herself that she may even love him, she can't forget that Edirne isn't her real home. She longs to return to Wallachia and dreams of a way to get there.
Is it any good?
Readers looking for a palace-intrigue tale as focused on the torment of intense characters as it is on relentless royal assassination attempts, then you've come to the right place. And the right place is the intriguing Ottoman Empire in AND I DARKEN, and the right female hero is Vada, who author Kiersten White imagines as a young Dracula, if he were a girl. But in this installment, we're pretty far from Transylvania most of the time. And Vada's rough relationship with her much milder brother Radu, and with the future sultan Mehmed, are at the center of the story.
White digs deep into their longings for connection, for homeland, and even for religion. And all the while she moves the story fast, often from one serious danger to another. It's a masterful balance that few YA writers manage well. Let's hope she keeps up the intensity and the action as The Conquerors Saga continues.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the fascinating time period depicted here. How much did you know about the Ottoman Empire before reading the book?
Lada can be a tough main character to like. Are you rooting for her? Do you think she makes a wise decision at the end of the book?
Will you keep reading The Conquerers Saga? What do you think will happen next to Lada, Radu, and Mehmed?
- Author: Kiersten White
- Genre: Historical Fiction
- Topics: Princesses, Fairies, Mermaids, and More, Brothers and Sisters, History
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Delacorte Press
- Publication date: June 28, 2016
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 12 - 17
- Number of pages: 496
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
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