Welcome to Wittkop Reads. I am an Iowa teacher librarian in a shared middle school & high school library, and have recently begun my journey as a book reviewer. This blog will share my thoughts and updates on the Middle Grade and Young Adult books I am reading. Follow me here to keep up on what I am reading and recommending. Thanks for stopping by, and I hope that you find something interesting to add to your "To be Read" list. Happy reading!

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

And I Darken by Kiersten White

Recommended for: Young Adult/Adult Readers

Thank you Netgalley, Random House Children's, Delacorte Press and Kiersten White for selecting me to read and review a digital ARC of this book.  

"So the question becomes, Daughter of the Dragon, what will you sacrifice?  What will you let be taken away so that you, too, can have power"              
--And I Darken

It is 1435 in Transylvania on the edge of the Ottoman Empire and Constantinople.  

Ladislav (Lada) is the only daughter of Vlad Dracul, the Dragon, the ceremonial leader of Wallachia, Lada was born feisty, angry, and fierce to a meek and absent mother.  She was raised by a wet nurse who had a son of her own that was Lada's age.  The nurse's son Bogdan and Lada were inseparable and spent their time terrorizing everyone.  Above all, Lada loves her homeland and hopes to someday be a leader.  She doesn't see herself as a woman and refuses to follow the standards and rules that a young lady should.  She fights and is cruel to show that she is not weak and will take what she wants.  She sees this as the way to gain favor with her distant father.

Radu is the youngest son of Vlad Dracul.  Where Lada was feisty and fierce, Radu was meek, fearful, beautiful and tenderhearted.  He craves relationships and love, but is constantly left out, ignored and picked on by his sister and Bogdan.  He latches onto the wet nurse and does his best to fly under the radar, but hopes that one day his sister will love him.  

Lada and Radu's father is barely holding onto the last threads of power he has over the region of Transylvania in Wallachia.  He has made bad deals, gone back on his word, and has created many enemies.  When the leader of the Ottoman Empire demands the presence of Vlad and his family at his palace, Vlad knows he is in trouble.  In order to save his own skin, Vlad trades his children so he can return home and continue to rule.  Lada and Radu will remain in Erdine as a lesson to Vlad.  

The two children are abandoned in a land they do not know with customs, languages and religion different from their own.  At first they feel lost and alone, but Lada finds her niche with the Jannisaries, the guards and soldiers of the court.  She trains and connects with the soldiers and becomes very skilled and respected by the men.  Radu is beautiful and kind and becomes an instant favorite of of the tutors and other members of the court.  Lada and Radu begin to connect but still struggle to have a normal sibling relationship.  After a short time they meet a young boy their age named Mehmed. He insists that they begin joining him in his lessons and activities.  The three build a friendship and then Lada and Radu discover that Memed is one of the sons of Sultan Murad, the man who was holding them here in the Ottoman Empire.  

Despite the circumstances, both Lada and Radu connect deeply with Mehmed and forge a friendship and dependency on one another.  As they grow, this relationship becomes a triangle of uncharted feelings and confusion.  Mehmed is not really anywhere near ruling because of his older brothers, so he enjoyed the freedoms of being an extra son.  He had free time and was able to grow up without the pressures of the palace and enjoy his friendships with Lada and Radu. 

When things change and Mehmed is brought to the front of the line and thrown into the position as Sultan, everything changes.  Lada hates everything about the Ottoman Empire and still wishes desperately to return to Wallachia, but she has also fallen for Mehmed in a way she doesn't understand.  Meanwhile Radu has embraced the culture, religion, and is flourishing.  He has no desire to ever leave, and is also harboring unexpected and confusing feelings for Mehmed.  Where do they fit in and what happens when everything changes?

The plot is full of twists and turns, and White builds strong characters with compelling stories and complex emotions.  The historical setting and context are well researched, and the world she creates is realistic and intriguing.  At some points throughout the story, I felt the plot could have moved quicker, but overall I enjoyed it.  Lada is a force to be reckoned with and a fun heroine to follow, and White gives a strong dual perspective by alternating between the ferocity of Lada's narrative and the intense sensitivity of Radu's narrative.  

And I Darken is a first in a trilogy.  It leaves the reader satisfied with the conclusion, but still wanting more and looking forward to future installments.  I look forward to more from Kiersten White!