Title: And I Darken
Author: Kiersten White
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult, Historical, Romance
My Rating: 3 stars
I decided to give this book a second shot, partially because I couldn’t really remember what I didn’t enjoy about it the first time around, and also because the second and third books in the series have very high ratings. Somehow I never got around to putting all my notes together and writing a full review, so I pulled out my old comments and made a second attempt. I was curious to see whether the story picked up after the events of this book, and wanted to give the rest of the series a chance. I listened to this in audiobook form this time around, and I think that did help my experience a bit- I did enjoy it more this time around, but I was still reminded of all the reasons I had a hard time with this one in the first place.
“Anger carved away everything else inside— doubt, fear, embarrassment—leaving room for nothing else. She never felt more powerful than when she was angry with a sword in her hands.”
Lada and Radu’s story starts off early in their lives, and takes too long to progress. Seeing what they went through as children is important because it helps you understand the relationship dynamics in their lives and how they grew into who they are, but there were too many small stories and details along the way. It took too long to get to the main conflicts, and a lot of time is spent with them while they are around 12-13 years old, where we are being told about things that become dull to read about. Lada is hard to relate to as a character, and is almost feral at times. I understand she was raised in an environment that made her this way, but she constantly lashes out and never assesses whether a different approach would be smarter. I’ll chalk that up to her immaturity during the beginning of the book, but it was still frustrating since so much time was spent getting to know her at this age.
“She plucked a rose and held it to her face. She hated the way roses smelled, their sweetness too fragile. She wanted a garden of evergreens. A garden of stones. A garden of swords.”
Religion is a big topic in this book, and although it is talked about a lot, one religion is not portrayed as more important or legitimate than another. There may be bias coming from certain characters when they discuss a religion that they don’t believe in or give credit to, but in general the different religions are all painted in a non-biased light. Which is great, but can make the story dull when it is discussed, especially when a lot of this involves the character’s personal feelings- characters that I found it very hard to relate to. This book is less action and more politics, which was done very well and in great detail, but if you’re expecting something else it can be hard to accept the book for what it is.
The story in general just needed MORE. More detail, more to happen, more than just a love triangle. Yes, there was a plot, and yes, things happened, but there was too much pining and focus on the characters’ love for Mehmed. We have chapters from Lada and Radu’s perspective, so there are pages of Radu’s thoughts and longing for Mehmed followed by pages of Lada’s thoughts and longing for Mehmen, and it just ends up getting stale. Lada and Radu are both supposed to be really into Mehmed, but what do we even see about Mehmed that makes him desirable? There isn’t any chemistry between either pair, and it seems like the only thing that made Lada and Radu think about Mehmed in a romantic way was their proximity to him growing up. Mehmed isn’t really portrayed as very likeable- is doesn’t stand out for his wit, or smarts, or even a caring nature. He’s off doing his own thing for most of the book, and only interacts with Lada and Radu occasionally and when he’s in the mood for it. I didn’t get to know the characters and their personalities enough to actually become invested in what happened to them. Yes, Radu is in danger, but do I really care? Yes, Mehmed is going into danger and Lada is worried for his safety, but do I really care? The answer throughout the whole book ended up being “no, not really”. Now that they have grown up a bit and the groundwork has been laid, I’m hopeful that I will be more invested in their fates in the future.
“But there are many ways to be powerful. There is power in stillness. There is power in watching, waiting, saying the right thing at the right time to the right person. There is power in being a woman.”
I was able to appreciate the role of the women more this time around. It was fun being introduced to Huma and to see how much she could accomplish behind the scenes, as well as how much she had already accomplished that we have no idea she had a hand in. Watching Lada adjust her views and learn from Huma was some much needed character progression, and I’m interested to see how Lada changes from who she was when we left her at the end of this installment. The time it took to get to where the characters ended up in the last portion of the book was dragged out far too long, but once we arrived there, things started to get much more interesting and intense. I’m looking forward to continuing the series and getting to see what the characters will accomplish now that a lot has changed and they are older.