My rating: 4 of 5 stars
*A huge thank you to Random House Children’s for providing me a digital ARC of this novel via Netgalley for the purposes of review*
This is not a fast book, but if you stick with it, you may find it rewarding.
I went into this book completely blind: I knew nothing about it, had heard nothing about it, and didn’t have any set bar of expectations for it. Which is probably why, at first, I wasn’t really sure I was going to like it. I read the blurb and immediately feared I was going to get a love triangle and a poor treatment of the narrative gimmick: What if Dracula was a girl?
Except, yes, this book has a love triangle…but it’s not quite what you’d expect.
And, yes, it does ask the question: What if Dracula was a girl? Once again, it’s not quite what you’d expect.
And I Darken takes a distinctly historical-fiction approach to its story, investigating Vlad Dragwlya’s children, Lada and Radu. Lada is a half-wild, fiercely-violent young girl (and later young woman) who believes in solving things with bloodshed first, (maybe) talk second. Her gentler younger brother, Radu, is the exact opposite: he is a softhearted crybaby who eventually sees the value in using quiet words in order to manipulate people to achieve his ends. Two sides of the same coin — given that this is to be a series, I wonder if the ultimate idealogical showdown will be that of a conqueror versus a ruler.
Lana is terrifying, and fit to be the conqueror of this potential ideological smackdown; she is likely to become our Vlad the Impaler because, while she certainly matured over the course of the novel, there’s no denying that she is a woman defined by her wrath. Radu, however, could be the ruler, or at the very least, the advisor to a ruler. He knows the value of slipping into people’s lives without shedding blood, and also the power of quiet manipulation. I think he’s set to be the an advisor-type character to our third major player: Mehmed. The son of the sultan of the Ottoman Empire, and the childhood friend of both Lada and Radu, Mehmed was one of the weakest parts of the novel. It was not so much a question of whether or not I could like him, but more whether or not i could find him interesting. In contrast to the Dragwlya siblings, Mehmed fell a little flat. Again, given this is a series, I sense he’ll become a more fully-defined character, especially given the ending of this novel.
The love triangle, while present, was not horrible. They can be done well, and while I wish it were not present at all within this novel, I can swallow it because it only threatened to derail only one of the characters in near-perpetual and inescapable angst. That grew tiresome after a while, and hence I wish the love triangle had been omitted — however, again, it was on the whole done tastefully and well.
Because this is a series, the good first third of this novel moves at a glacial pace, and I was starting to grow dismayed as to how little was actually happening. It gets better, but I should warn you’ll have to slog through the first bit. But I will say that it is absolutely 100% worth it when you get to the ending. The narrative promises set in the beginning are delivered upon and it’s not only action-packed, but also provides some much-needed and crucial character moments and developments, especially for Lada. (If you haven’t guessed, Lada is my favourite character and the true “breakout star” of this story.)
Would I read the sequels? Yes. I want to see what White does with Lada’s story. I want to see the historical aspects weave their way through this fictitious presentation. And I think those who read this, will want those things too.