And I Darken by Kiersten White
And I Darken, #1 of 3
★★★★★ | 2016 release
I spend so much time posting new reviews and I really want to just… post an old review, for posterity. I originally posted this on Goodreads on October 29th, 2016, and have edited it a bit since then, but a lot of it is still the same. So let’s go!
Listen. Listen. I adore this series. I love it in my soul. Buuuuuut this is a great example of a series where book one is a great setup but book two is where the payoff is. Even though I had some issues here, it should be noted that book two, Now I Rise, is one of my all-time favorite books, improving on every one of my issues with this book.. Top five-single-books-ever level. Feel free to drop on over to my review.
I admit that I loved this slightly more while reading it – I think time and meditation has somewhat dulled my opinion.
THE BEST BITS
♔ The worldbuilding is just beautiful. And I Darken is historical fiction, but it’s not like historical fiction that you’ve read before. Honestly, it reads like excellent fantasy. It’s cool that history classes about the Ottoman Empire can spoil you about a book. There’s some awesome political intrigue in this one, which I REALLY loved.
“You see this…as a prison. But you are wrong. This is my court. This is my throne. This is my kingdom. The cost was my freedom and my body…So the question becomes, Daughter of the Dragon, what will you sacrifice? What will you let be taken away so that you, too, can have power?”
♚ The tension was so palpable. I genuinely felt that these characters could die at any moment. Dramatic tension never faded, and the book is incredibly suspenseful. Yes, there are moments where the plot is slow and the book got boring, but for a 500-page book, this was incredibly engaging. And I Darken truly is very dark, as promised. There is nothing light and fluffy about this book.
♔ I liked that White managed to have a misogynistic, borderline-Islamophobic main character, yet not portray either of those messages as positive. Neither of these traits are romanticized by the narrative. In fact, some of the major characters practice Islam, including the second narrator, and it is not portrayed as a detriment to them. I HAVE seen a few ownvoices reviewers mention they felt otherwise about the rep, so I’d check out some other reviews. But I did really like that there were so many sympathetic Ottoman characters; Nazira especially is one of my favorite side characters of all time (especially in book two).
♚ The writing style of this blew me away. It’s so engaging, and gorgeous in a very understated way. So kudos for achieving that balance!
MY MIXED FEELINGS ON THE CHARACTER WORK
Now, here’s my real complaint. Lada, Radu, and Mehmed are… sort of well developed… but none of them are all that sympathetic, and they fall into archetypes more than I’d like.
♔ Lada is definitely a morally ambiguous and badass character. She’s purposefully written as both hatable and sympathetic. She believes she’s not like other girls and there’s a religious taint to her dislike for the Ottoman Empire. Her dislikability is honestly one of the reasons I am so impressed with her character. Because I should hate her, but somehow, she’s my favorite; she’s just got a sympathetic edge to her. I did have a few issues, though. First of all, she’s not in touch with her emotions unless that emotion is anger, which is fine, but I almost wanted her to have a true breakdown and show the cracks in her armor. That’s just my preference in characters coming through, I think.
The real issue is that she gets too damn distracted by Mehmed. Badass female character… until Hot Dude Appears.You know, creativity. To be fair, she keeps her badassery and characterization, even when the book gets too romantic for my taste.
♚ Radu is an interesting character in the abstract, but his storyline really annoyed me. His main job in this book is to be in love with Mehmed. Unrequited gay love. You know, creativity. This narrative does definitely improve in book two (one of the many things I loved about book two #IworshipNowIRise2k17) but for this book, I’ll just say that it really didn’t deserve the representation praise.
♔ While Mehmed is extremely likeable in the first half, in the second half I kind of hated him. He comes off as a misogynistic ass in some sections. Granted, this was purposeful, but I really just feel like he needs to get off Lada’s case. She deserves better.
♚ Complex sibling relationships (or rivalries) are the absolute greatest. Radu and Lada’s sibling rivalry and contradicting close bond is an absolute triumph. Unfortunately, I wasn’t a fan of their dynamic’s relationship to that stupid love triangle. In general, there’s too much romance; Lada and Mehmed’s chemistry was completely nonexistent. Frankly, Mehmed had more chemistry with Radu, but was also portrayed entirely as heterosexual. Again, that unrequited love thing got old FAST. This love triangle is a super creative idea, and I really love it in the abstract, but it got old fast when I realized White had no intentions of portraying Mehmed as anything but straight.
All in all, the character work here wasn’t bad by any means, but it wasn’t quite as engaging for me as so many others have said it was. Frankly, I found it lacking here.
So, do I recommend this book? Yes, with every bit of my heart. I read an arc of the sequel and it’s possibly one of my favorite books of all time. An open letter to Radu: I am so sorry that I didn’t love you in this book. You’re an incredible character and one of my all-time favorites. I’m sorry for saying all this bad shit about you. I’d die for you and your fake wife.