No one expects a princess to be brutal. And Lada Dragwlya likes it that way. Ever since she and her gentle younger brother, Radu, were wrenched from their homeland of Wallachia and abandoned by their father to be raised in the Ottoman courts, Lada has known that being ruthless is the key to survival. She and Radu are doomed to act as pawns in a vicious game, an unseen sword hovering over their every move. For the lineage that makes them special also makes them targets.
Lada despises the Ottomans and bides her time, planning her vengeance for the day when she can return to Wallachia and claim her birthright. Radu longs only for a place where he feels safe. And when they meet Mehmed, the defiant and lonely son of the sultan, Radu feels that he’s made a true friend—and Lada wonders if she’s finally found someone worthy of her passion.
But Mehmed is heir to the very empire that Lada has sworn to fight against—and that Radu now considers home. Together, Lada, Radu, and Mehmed form a toxic triangle that strains the bonds of love and loyalty to the breaking point.
And I Darken by Kiersten White was a book I had my eye on for a while and I’m so happy I was able to get my hands on an early copy. This book has a little of everything, strong characters, politics and deception, danger, and even a bit of romance. The actual story is based on the thought around the idea of Vlad the Impaler and what things might have been like if Vlad had been a girl. That alone was enough to get me excited to read!
Lada Dragwlya is the daughter of Vlad Dracul, the military governor of Transylvania and to say he was disappointed about having a daughter is probably a gross understatement. A year after Lada’s birth, her brother Radu is born and as these two grow up, they become complete opposites and that leads up to the rest of the story. I don’t think Lada has a sympathetic bone in her body and Radu is very sensitive and they couldn’t be more different in their personalities and how they react and engage with those around them. When their father hands them over to the Ottoman court, they find themselves in a situation they never really expected to be in.
As Lada and Radu grow up with the Ottomans, it is clear they both have very different perspectives. While Lada continues to try to keep herself as separate (as much as she can) from the Ottomans and not build any lasting relationships, Radu is searching for connections and begins to identify with the people around him. He was never able to rely on Lada for friendship and he is hungry to have someone to fill that role. By chance, Lada and Radu cross paths one day with Mehmed, the son of the sultan, and things change for them all.
While Lada, Radu, and Mehmed form a friendship, things are always out of their control. The only thing they can have any influence on is their relationships and eventually a triangle forms that creates some issues for all three. Despite her desire to stay separate, Lada feels a pull to Mehmed and Mehmed feels the same. The issue is that Radu begins to feel more for Mehmed as well and things slowly begin to pull these three apart.
Outside of the relationship between these characters, the story includes danger and deception and once Mehmed becomes the sole heir of the throne, the politics begin to tie into the story. I have to admit, I don’t blame Lada for not diving right in with Mehmed. As sultan, it is expected for him to have a harem and concubines and it is also expected that he visit them. While Mehmed says he loves and cares for Lada, he is for sure going to the harem and while she tries to hide it, it bothers Lada so she never really fully invests herself in any sort of relationship with Mehmed.
As the danger Mehmed faces as a young, determined leader become more obvious, Lada and Radu find themselves helping to protect Mehmed and this is one of the parts of the story that was my favorite. While I found parts in the beginning and middle of the story to be slow at some times, the ending of this book was fantastic and I loved how White wrapped everything up.
If you are looking for a story that has interesting characters, danger, romance, and everything in between, consider checking this one out. I am definitely looking forward to the next book in this series and can’t wait to find out what happens next.
Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for the review copy!