And I Darken

Written by Kiersten White
Review by Henriette Gyland

What if Vlad the Impaler were a girl?

Set in Wallachia (Transylvania), a vassal state of the Ottoman Empire, in the years 1446 to 1451, And I Darken follows the life of the vaivode (warlord prince) Vladislav Dragwlya with a fair degree of accuracy. Except this Vlad is a girl. Like the ruler of the history books, Lada spends her early years in Wallachia, and then as a hostage of the sultan when her weak father refuses to pay taxes to the Turks.

In contrast to her clever and gentle brother Radu, Lada is wild, brutal and almost self-destructive in her blind quest to return to Wallachia and take her father’s place as ruler. But she bides her time and trains with the Janissaries, an army of fighting slaves sent from their homelands as tributes to the sultan. The siblings also befriend the sultan’s son, later Mehmed II, but this meeting is not confirmed as historical fact.

In And I Darken there is a sense of unease on every page, especially at the sultan’s court with its sophisticated political machinations, and Lada is almost dehumanised by the inherently brutal environment, which serves as an interesting way for the author to explain the cruelty for which the Transylvanian leader was so notorious. A good read, but occasionally uncomfortable; with the sadistic historical leaders, this book is not for the squeamish. However, there are glimmers of beauty in the imagery, e.g. ‘A spire so high [he] was surprised it didn’t scratch the blue of the sky’. There’s a helpful glossary at the back.

Although told intermittently from Lada’s and Radu’s viewpoints, Lada, with her strong feminist views is the perfect anti-heroine and will appeal to girls aged 15+.