And I Darken, Book 1

Book review by
Carrie R. Wheadon, Common Sense Media
And I Darken, Book 1 Book Poster Image
Absorbing read imagines the early years of a female Dracula.

Parents say

age 18+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 14+
Based on 2 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Intriguing twist on historical fiction imagines the life of Vlad the Impaler (the inspiration for Dracula) if he were Lada, a woman. But there's only a hint of who she will become here as we dig into her early years in Wallachia, briefly, and then her teen years farther south in Edirne, the heart of the 15th-century Ottoman Empire. With her close connection to the sultan's court, readers will get a clear picture of life at court, who made up the various classes, the constant warring power and land grab that made this a true empire, the rules inside a harem, how armies were formed and trained, and much more. And when Lada's brother Radu converts to Islam, readers will learn about daily prayer, the Five Pillars of Islam, and more. And with Vada in an unusual position for a woman at that time, there's much time to ponder what life was like for every other woman at that time and how limited their choices were.

Positive Messages

When it comes to choosing a path of connection with others or a path of personal power and independence, the latter wins out in the end for some. Whether this feels positive depends on the reader, but either way it will get readers thinking about what they value more and what they would sacrifice for independence. One of Radu's mentors reminds him that peace can only be found within, and despite the cruelty you can find in others, you have a choice about who you become: "You can choose to find comfort and solace in God. You can choose to be brave and compassionate. And you can choose to find beauty and happiness wherever they present themselves."

Positive Role Models & Representations

Lada may often be cruel and ruthless, but she protects those close to her, often with her life. She constantly defies expectations of a woman in the 15th century and needs to be extremely tough to get by. But her desire for power and independence gets in the way of maintaining her most important relationships. Radu, Vada's wimpy brother, eventually finds his own power to protect his friends in charming the right people and keeping his ears open. But sometimes he lets jealousy get the best of him. A character converts to Islam and finds some peace in his religious practice, feeling at least in one way he's being true to himself.

Violence

The main characters, 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 is 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 is drowned on purpose. Lada and Radu's mother is forced to crawl on her hands and knees by their father.  

Sex

Some passionate kissing and groping, both straight and gay. One character suffers for loving his friend, another man, whom he can probably never tell. Much talk of harems and the main character wondering about all the sultans' wives and mistresses, with talk of a woman using her sexuality to gain power and how Lada is very opposed to this. A handful of bawdy jokes, especially about penis size.

Language

Rare strong language. Versions of "damn," plus "whore" and "ass."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A few scenes of drinking at festive events that include teens. The Sultan drinks himself into a stupor for nights in a row.

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.  

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say

There aren't any reviews yet. Be the first to review this title.

Teen, 16 years old Written byIRelishInBooks August 3, 2016

Facisinating and enthralling, the best historical fiction I've read in a while!

This is definitely NOT a YA, if I could, this would be a New Adult! Language: mostly whore, and sometimes ass, but nothing ever too graphic. Sex: Woman's m... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byMrava February 14, 2018

Shows the Importance of Independence

Historically innacurate, but a very consuming read with perfectly drawn characters; great sense of time and place, vivid descriptions, emotional complexity, amb... Continue reading

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?

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