When a baby girl is born to military governor Vlad Dracul of Wallachia, he cannot believe he could have produced anything other than a boy, so he names her Ladislav, the female version of his name. Lada, as she prefers to be called, grows up with a younger brother, named Radu, and the son of her nurse, Bogdan. All the genes for beauty go to Radu, as does the gentle nature, and Lada is ferocious, fierce, cunning, intent on winning, and protective — possessive — of her brother and Bogdan.
When Lada is 13, Bogdan is taken away to become part of the elite Ottoman group of soldiers the Janissaries, and shortly after, Lada and Radu are taken and held in the Ottoman capital of Edirne as guarantee that their father will not fight against the Ottomans and their sultan. There, though their lives are on the line, dependent on their father’s actions, they end up becoming intimate friends with the sultan’s son and heir, Mehmed.
The bulk of the book follows the next six or seven years, with times of relative peace and stability and even happiness for Radu and Lada and more times of upheaval, political intrigue, danger, and growth. Lada longs to be back in Wallachia but doesn’t have the power to go back, and as time goes on, her relationship with Mehmed grows ever deeper and more complicated, making it difficult for her to leave him, as much as she hates the Ottomans. Meanwhile, the gentler Radu comes to love Edirne, where he converts quietly to Islam and enjoys the peace it brings him, and being with his sister and best friend.
But life is not safe for Mehmed in particular, who is given the throne at a young age and in danger of having it taken from him — his death at the hands of those who desire power being the principal method. Lada saves him, and she and Radu make a deal to protect him until he is better prepared to rule. That will come back to haunt them, but it will also eventually lead Lada to her destiny.
And I Darken is the first in a series that will tell the story of the ruthless, infamous Vlad the Impaler — if he had been female instead of male. This book spends most of its time in the Ottoman Empire with a growing and learning Lada, who is figuring out who she is as a woman and who she can possibly become in a world dominated by men. It’s dark, and much different than anything Kiersten White has written before. It’s complex and visceral and the story simmers like a volcano before it explodes. It’s definitely more mature writing than White’s early and simpler Paranormalcy books, but it’s not my favorite yet; I reserve that still for Illusions of Fate. I’ll be curious to see what develops with this series, because this is just the beginning.
Rated: Moderate. There is little in the way of language, but plenty in the way of violence and mature themes. There is a lot of fighting, a fair amount of blood, references to nasty ways of killing people. There are references to harems, concubines and multiple wives. There are scenes of intense kissing that seem to indicate going farther but not to sex, but there are few details. The main character ponders her body as she has her first period and as she faces the possibility of becoming a wife to someone for various reasons. She thinks about sexuality, but with few details given. There are homosexual characters. This book really seems more like fiction suited to adults, though its characters are teens and it’s being marketed as a young adult book.
* I received an advance reader’s e-copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.