Right now, I’m so flat out working on the sequels to GILDED CAGE – books 2 and 3 of the Dark Gifts trilogy – that I don’t have much head-space for reading. (I don’t have much head-space for the real world, if I’m being honest.) So with a week’s holiday coming up, one of the things I was looking forward to most was … reading!
It was going to be a bookish kind of holiday anyway, because I’m in Romania – including Transylvania/Wallachia, home of the infamous Vlad the Impaler, inspiration for Dracula. But before I came I heard about AND I DARKEN, the first of a new YA trilogy from the fabulous Kiersten White that retells Vlad’s story, with one very crucial difference. Genderswap!
How irresistible is that? So I begged myself an ARC.
Vlad is now Lada, the bold, ugly, daughter of the shifty voivode of Wallachia. This first book takes Lada and her little brother Radu – to whom history gave a kinder reputation and the nickname ‘the Handsome’ – from childhood in Sighisoara and Tirgoviste, to adolescence as political hostages in the Ottoman court, where they grow up alongside one of the Ottoman sultan’s sons, Mehmed.
White has written a fabulous political thriller, with a side-helping of YA love-triangle served up absolutely fresh: Lada’s growing and suppressed attraction to Mehmed, his arrogant yet sincere affection for her, and breaking my heart all over the page, Radu’s reluctant and all-consuming love for Mehmed.
It’s a gripping tale, and White doesn’t shirk the detail and intricacies of court and military life. The story propels you along – you pause only to admire delicious turns of phrase. When an ally is shot during an ambush, the victim ‘looked up at Radu, a half smile on his face as though the arrow were the end of the joke he had been in the middle of telling. And then he fell off his horse, tangling under the wheels of the supply wagon behind them.’
The book holds many more rewards, not least a wonderfully nuanced depiction of Islam, and a gorgeous little F/F romance glowingly illuminated in the margins. White brings to life not simply her protagonists, but their whole milieu. I loved Lada, Mehmet, Kumal and Nazira – and especially Radu – and can’t wait for the second in this series.
The photos show (top) AND I DARKEN outside the birthplace of Vlad/Lada Dracul in Sighisoara, and in the courtyard of Bran Castle, a stronghold of Vlad/Lada and also the inspiration for the residence of Bram Stoker’s Dracula!