The New York Times bestselling author Kiersten White has recently finished her second installment in the popular YA series, The Conquerors. After having it suggested to me many times, I decided the series was worth a try. The first installment, And I Darken, took some time to get into, but ended up being an inspiring and thrilling novel altogether.
The story takes place in the 15th-century Ottoman Empire. After being abandoned by their father, a pair of royal Wallachian siblings rise to power by befriending the future sultan, Mehmed. Constantly being targeted by political opposers, the three work together to survive wars and assassination attempts while dealing with romantic relationships, abandonment issues, and finding a sense of purpose.
One of the main themes of the novel is power. The most powerful character should be Mehmed, the sultan, but throughout the book he was depicted as a useless idiotic character, who was used simply to move the story forward. However, that intensified the theme that behind every man of power, there are far more powerful people who rose him to that place. The flatness of Mehmed as a character gave all the power to the two siblings.
The eldest sibling, Lada, started off as one of the most unlikable, aggressive and rude characters ever.
Lada hit him in the stomach. He doubled over in pain, sinking to his knees. She knelt next to him, grabbing him by the ears “Do not thank me. All I did was teach them to fear me. How does that help you? I will not be here to save you again.”
This was Ladas reaction after her brother, who was 10 at the time, thanked her for beating up his bullies. It made me hate her as a character, as she was showing aggression to someone who was too weak to handle it at the time, and she was telling him to his face that she only cared for herself.
However, by the end of the book, Lada managed to show her emotions, personal struggles and weaknesses. It made her more relatable, and brought her down to earth, although she still was quite self absorbed at times. Throughout the book, she showed considerable power, through her stubborn attitude, requirement for acceptance, and her motivation to learn, to fight and to beat her opponents. She saved Mehmed’s life on multiple occasions, gaining the title as the head of his personal guards. It was refreshing to see such a strong female character in that time period. She was often getting harassed by her fellow male soldiers, but each time they would pay for their disrespect, as she would beat them in combat and prove her worth. It made us women say “You go girl. Females can be strong too!”
The younger sibling, Radu, started off as the polar opposite to Lada, often the target of her aggression at a young age. At first, it felt like he was a supporting character in the novel simply used to make Lada seem more powerful. Slowly though, we could see that he held a lot of intelligence within him. He became more and more powerful, using his charisma as a secret weapon. Unlike Lada, his intentions for gaining power were noble, as he does so to protect the one he loves.
The second-most-prominent theme of the book is finding oneself. After the two siblings left their home, they were lost. They could no longer say the kingdom of Wallachia was their home as their terrible father lived there. However, being hostages of the Ottoman Empire, they couldn’t say that it was their home either. This made them confused as they felt unimportant and lost. By the end of And I Darken, we could see that Lada found comfort in her anger, promising to avenge herself by destroying her father. Radu found comfort in Islam, enjoying the gathering of his brethren to pray. The novel beautifully illustrated his journey to find himself, showing his first time praying as an eye-opening experience:
Radu watched in wonder as the men closed their eyes, following the same movements, praying together, their bodies and voices in perfect unison. He had never seen anything so beautiful.
While reading this, I felt a sense of reassurance. We teenagers are at a transitional period in our life. It can be stressful, and we feel lost at times. Luckily, this book can be comforting by showing us the characters experiences in finding themselves, and in turn telling us it will be okay.
Unfortunately, I would have to give this book a 6.5 out of 10. A huge flaw is that it took an insanely long time for any sort of action to happen. 100 pages into the book we were still hearing about the happy childhood of the two siblings with little notable material to rope us into the story. Even later on in the book, there were times when I wasn’t able to keep reading because it dragged on for a long time. Luckily, the characters and relationships kept me going.
And I Darken is one rollercoaster of a book. It can be boring at times, and it does notably take a while to get immersed into, but if you are interested in getting empowered and inspired as a women, or if you’re feeling lost about your purpose in life and you need some reassurance, this book is worth a read.