And I Darken is a dark, gritty and compelling novel, set in Transylvania at the height of the Ottoman Empire. Dealing with alternate history, it is more political than your typical YA fantasy, but that is also what makes this novel attractively original.
One thing that immediately intrigues the reader is definitely the unconventional setting in Eastern Europe. Somewhat it is rare to see novels, especially YA novels, set there and the author captures it perfectly. This is the story of two royal children, abandoned and left to fight for their survival in an Ottoman court. It’s the story of a girl constrained by her gender, in a time where daughters are little more than chattel, and a young man trying to come out from his sister’s shadow.
We are introduced to Lada, the daughter of Vlad Dracul. Right upon her birth, she was dismissed as warlords have no use for a daughter. Girls are considered only to be useful if they’re pretty enough to be married off. But as Lada grew, Vlad discovered in his daughter the strength he himself admired, the qualities in a leader that was completely missing in his son Radu. Lada is a fantastic and fierce protagonist. From the moment she is born, she is resilient and a little bit overly aggressive. As she grows, she becomes ever more cold, cruel and calculating. She quickly recognizes what it means to be a woman in this world and she decides to break society’s rules.
And I Darken explores brilliantly why Lada feels certain disdain for women. Her confused feelings make her uncertain over whether she should deny or defend femininity. It is soon that she will reveal how are many kinds of power, and women have their own ways of biding their time and eventually getting what they want. This novel greatly deals with question of power, how can it be gained and used. It about women, and what it means to be a woman. And it’s about fighting, every day, to be who you are.
If you love anti-heroines, you will be mesmerized by Lada. She comes as brutal as it is possible for a character to be, which makes this book unusual as there’s rarely such heroine in YA fiction. One can definitely understand why Lada is the way she is. She clawed her way into the world, and ever since she was a child, Lada had to fight for everything. She is aggressive, short-tempered, but intensely intelligent. Her anger is palpable, and there is such a hunger in her for life and for what is hers. Beware of strong, determined women.