Genres: Young Adult, Historical Fiction, Romance
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Publication Date: June 28th 2016
3 OUT OF 5 STARS
Disclaimer: A copy of this novel was received from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
What if Vlad the Impaler had been a woman? White spins a brilliantly reimagined historical fiction focusing on Lada, and her brother Radu. Both of whom are traded to the Ottoman empire by their father. While Radu adjusts, Lada is furious. She is determined to make her way back to Wallachia, but when they befriend the sultan’s son Mehmed, things become complex and dangerous.
Lada and Radu are a wonderful juxtaposition. Lada is all brute force and violence, while Radu uses charm and wit to win his place. It’s strange and exciting to have a female protagonist be ugly and violent while her brother is incredibly beautiful. It’s also refreshing to see a subversion of the regular tropes, and especially nice to see Vlad as a girl to breathe some new life into a tale that has been beaten to death.
Lada is a girl, and though she sometimes detests it, the book has other strong women finding power a different way. At first Lada looks upon women who marry as weak, but it is a different kind of power. And I Darken does a good job of creating diversity not only in gender and sexuality, but in personality while respecting all of them. Being fanciful and happy as a wife isn’t weak, being violent and ugly doesn’t make you incapable of love. There’s also a lot of great scenes focusing on how being a woman puts Lada at a disadvantage, and how she manages to overcome that.
I want to clarify that I am not knowledgeable about Islam and it’s traditions. I do not know how accurately this book portrays the faith. What I do know is that it’s made to seem warm, beautiful and fulfilling. While Lada looks upon it with disdain, Radu finds something in the religion that he never had before. It’s important for these sorts of portrayals of religion to exist in literature, as something that offers comfort instead of breeding hate.
And I Darken does feel a lot like a set up however. It follows a lot of Lada’s young life, building her relationships and opinions. There is enough action to keep thing interesting, but at times it feels slow. So much happens but by the end of the novel everything is still open. None of the plots are pleasantly tied up. Clearly the book is paving the way for a sequel but it would have been nice if it has been given more of an ending for itself instead of just and opening for a new book to complete.