And I Darken
I was a Game of Thrones fan long before the show appeared on HBO. I mention that because the publisher tells us this vividly rendered novel reads like HBO’s Game of Thrones. That is, in part, true. If the story line of Arya Stark is your favorite, then And I Darken might just be what you are looking for.
Ladislav is named for her father, a man who takes little interest in her. Known as Lada to all others, she is a savage child who bites, kicks, and fights until she gets her way. When she wants to show affection to her younger brother Radu, she elbows him sharply in the ribs. As he explains, From her, it was almost like a hug. When the two of them are sent from their homeland of Wallachia to serve as hostages in the Ottoman courts, Lada does not embrace the scholarly ways and elegant manners of the people with whom she has been placed. She does well enough at her lessons but where she excels is in training with the Janissary (soldier) corps. A fierce warrior, who in her heart desires only to reclaim the throne of Wallachia, she spends her time planning and scheming for her return.
Radu is the opposite of Lada. He does not train to fight, nor does he despise the place where he is. He embraces Islam, bathing, fine clothing and fine food. He is not just a stooge of his captors, though. Well aware that no one is ever truly safe at court, Radu develops a talent for hearing what he shouldn’t, making powerful friends and being loved.
When they meet Mehmed, the devout but lonely third son of the sultan, they feel they have found someone who understands their position, someone who can relate to the pain of a being a pawn in a dangerous place. Then Mehmed’s older brothers die, his father wishes to retire and all three of their worlds are thrown into chaos. Mehmed is not ready to rule and his claim to the throne is tenuous at best. As his friends, Lada and Radu share in his fate and will rise or fall with him unless they can find additional allies. Unprepared for the dark and dangerous political waters they must now tread, the three teens set out to learn how to rule an empire.
If you are a fan of political intrigue or heroines with crusty exteriors who fight and snarl their way through every encounter, you’ll absolutely love this book. Lada has never met a conversation that couldn’t be improved by insults and sneering, and her every moment is seemingly another step in the dance of statecraft. Everything here is about survival; the thousand paths that you can take which lead to either life or death and how the results vary, dependant upon who and what you know.
If you are not a fan of those things, then this book probably isn’t for you. While the setting could have been fascinating, we don’t get to see enough for it to truly intrigue. Everything is about the politics and all else is simply a prop for that. Even the religion of Islam is only superficially explored as is life in the palace beyond the power struggles. No one notices scenery unless to figure out its strategic significance and aside from passion of a sexual nature, no one seems to have genuine human congress. Even the relationship between Radu and Lada is part necessity, part mild affection and a whole lot of politicking.
Speaking of passion, both Radu and Lada are in love with Mehmed. He is in love with one of them as well but of course the whole situation is made even more difficult by the politics and the sexual mores of the time. Neither Lada nor Radu are happy about Mehmed’s harem, his children from concubines or his political marriage, all of which are expected in his culture. Unrequited love, as all three of them love the wrong person at the wrong time, simmers along the bonds of their triangle, stretching it’s strength to the very core.
If you like books that catalog the making of a king you absolutely cannot go wrong with And I Darken. The writing is excellent, the characterization strong, and the rise to power appropriately tangled and twisted. However, since the author focuses entirely upon that subject matter, there is nothing here for someone who isn’t interested in it.