And I Darken & Now I Rise (The Conqueror’s Saga #1 and #2) by Kiersten White
Published by: Penguin Random House
Genre: Historical YA
Order at: Amazon
Reviewed by: Alex
What to Expect: What if Vlad the Impaler was actually a woman? What if a despot’s rise to power could be told sympathetically such that a reader could understand it? And maybe even root for said despot? This trilogy sets out with these questions in mind. People…the third and last book of the series, Bright We Burn, will be coming out in July. Read these and be ready for the conclusion of this dangerous and impeccably researched trilogy.
Plot: And I Darken
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.
Plot: Now I Rise
She has no allies. No throne. All she has is what she’s always had: herself.
After failing to secure the Wallachian throne, Lada Dracul is out to punish anyone who dares to cross her blood-strewn path. Filled with a white-hot rage, she storms the countryside with her men, accompanied by her childhood friend Bogdan, terrorizing the land. But brute force isn’t getting Lada what she wants. And thinking of Mehmed brings little comfort to her thorny heart. There’s no time to wonder whether he still thinks about her, even loves her. She left him before he could leave her.
What Lada needs is her younger brother Radu’s subtlety and skill. But Mehmed has sent him to Constantinople—and it’s no diplomatic mission. Mehmed wants control of the city, and Radu has earned an unwanted place as a double-crossing spy behind enemy lines. Radu longs for his sister’s fierce confidence—but for the first time in his life, he rejects her unexpected plea for help. Torn between loyalties to faith, to the Ottomans, and to Mehmed, he knows he owes Lada nothing. If she dies, he could never forgive himself—but if he fails in Constantinople, will Mehmed ever forgive him?
As nations fall around them, the Dracul siblings must decide: what will they sacrifice to fulfill their destinies? Empires will topple, thrones will be won…and souls will be lost.
Late 2017, I went to see Adam Silvera speak at a local bookstore. He was sitting next to Kiersten White and Laura Tims, whom I had not heard of at the time. Consider me re-educated.
Will get to Ms. Tims in a subsequent review but this one is all about Kiersten White, or at least her Trilogy about Lada (not Vlad) Dracul, Prince of Wallachia and inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula. After a brief reading, she discussed her interest in finding out if she could tell the story of Vlad’s rise in a way that made it possible for people to understand how a person could become to power in a way that most of the world would describe as evil? More than that…what if Vlad was a woman?
This is a story of Wallachia, four hundred years before it became Romania. It’s about a girl’s love for her country, one to eclipse any other love she will come across: that for her father who ruled before her, for her brother who she was exiled with, for the future and current Sultan (Mehmet II) won would be her lover, for the Wallachian-born Janissaries who followed her from the Ottoman Empire to their homeland and carried out her bloody, draconian orders.
This is also a story about the Ottoman Empire and of Lada’s brother Radu who will come to be known as Radu the Handsome, who risks his life to bring Constantinople under the Sultan’s reign. Radu completes Lada. Or, he would have he stuck by her side. Depending on the point of view, had she not left him. She is brutal, he is cunning. She is quick-actioned, he is quick-tongued. She is direct, he is tangential. She refuses to be a wife, he is a husband and partner to a woman in love with the woman playing the role of their maid. They are both in love with the same man. Neither is a love destined to come to fruition or so it seems.
Both narratives are equally gripping, rolling through betrayals and victories. Lada, as the alternative Vlad, is ruthless and vicious in her loyalty. Radu is a survivor. The descriptions of every country and of the households within it are first-rate. Perhaps the most effective way of sharing how much I was invested in this series is by telling you how many tabs about the Ottoman Empire and the history of Wallachia I had open, wanting to know more about the events and relationships shared on the stage. She breathes life into this segment of history, though it is fiction. She explores how to be a woman of power, how to be a gay man in love, how the youngest son can come to the throne when none of those ‘should’ happen — and of the betrayals to realize these unlikely events.
What you may not like: This premise is dangerous and it is easy to go along with a character as they go over the edge. I found myself thinking, “Oh, yeah. Well, she had to do this. Maybe she’s not so bad.” Y’all — I had to step away to think about how my brain processed this input. I mean, you are what you read. Remember to step back and think critically. Know what I’m saying?
What you will love: Bloodthirsty Lada (how she came to be that way), along with Diplomatic Radu who, despite the incessant questioning of himself and of those around him, works miracles. White set out to write a story in which a reader could understand how someone could become so evil and she succeeded. She brings the feels and smells and emotions of hundreds of years ago into the present day.
Alex claims to read more than any normal, healthy adult should though the rest of the Binge on Books team would beg to differ. You can read all of his reviews here.
Connect with Alex on Twitter: @Alex_deMorra