And I Darken by Kiersten White
Release Date: June 28, 2016
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Format: Paperback ARC
Genres: Historical Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
You know the “unlikable character” thing? I have a lot of messy thoughts on that. The one solid thought I have on it though is female characters often don’t get to be “unlikable.” Male characters get to be horrible and are called “interesting” and “flawed.” When female characters are the same way, people have a hard time rooting for them and they’re hated. This isn’t much different than how women are treated in real life.
In And I Darken, one of the main characters, Lada, is the definition of an “unlikable” character and I love it. She is vicious and mean in ways I often don’t see female characters get to be without being the villain. She’s manipulative. She mostly has her own interests in mind. She is also fascinating, fighting – sometimes literally – in a world stacked against women.
That particular world is our own world, but from a historical standpoint. And I Darken takes place mostly in the Ottoman Empire which forced me to brush up on what I learned freshman year of high school. It’s not a part of history often visited in Young Adult fiction and it brought something different to my reading experience. There’s a lot of grit and uncomfortable truths. It’s not easy to root for the main characters. Their intentions aren’t always honorable. Right and wrong is a massive grey mess. While plenty of YA tip toes into that area, this book stomps into it. It challenged my thinking and asked more questions than it answered.
Radu, Lada’s brother, is the book’s other main focus. He is his sister’s opposite in most ways. He is gentle and handsome where she is brash and ugly. Their dynamic is what shapes this book into what it is.
And what is it? A lot of things. But mostly it made think about both power and love. Power beyond power over others, but power within oneself. Love beyond romance. Love when it’s ugly. Love when it brings both power and powerlessness. How both tie into womanhood. How being a woman, throughout history, is so often tied to the power of men. How love and power can be used to survive as a woman.
There are two more books to come and I hope they continue to explore these themes. I am left with a lot to think about until then.
+ Characterization, especially of Lada, who I am grateful to have in fiction
+ The exploration of womanhood
+ All the complicated dynamics
– There is more of Radu and Mehmed I think could have been shown, but there are also two more books to do that.
? There is a lot of setup in the beginning and I haven’t quite decided if all of it was needed or not.
This book rewrites a part of history that was a brief lesson in school and challenges what is expected of a female heroine. It destroys the line between right and wrong, leaving the reader with a lot to mull over.
As a final note, I am bored to tears with comparisons to Game of Thrones* already and I might have to display some of Lada’s viciousness as a result.
*I tried reading GoT and it wasn’t interesting enough to me. Women do better at writing women than GRRM. SORRY.
Note: An advanced copy of this book was provided free by the publisher for review consideration. This in no way influenced my opinion.