Author: Kiersten White
Series: The Conqueror’s Saga (book #1)
Genre: YA Fantasy
Format: Paperback (512 pages)
Publisher: Ember (May 30th 2017; originally published June 28th 2016)
My Goodreads rating: 3/5 stars
Book Depository: 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, who’s expected to rule a nation, 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.
From New York Times bestselling author Kiersten White comes the first book in a dark, sweeping new series in which heads will roll, bodies will be impaled . . . and hearts will be broken.
Hi there! Hope you’re all doing well, you fabulous bloggers, you. Time for another review! It’s been a few days and I’m getting through my reading list steadily, so I’ll have several more reviews out this week. For now, at 2 a.m, I’m reviewing a book that was one of my most anticipated reads of 2017. I’ve heard such great things about this book, and naturally I pounced on my chance to read it like some crazed Wolverine. But alas, there was no great love to develop between this novel and me. I’m really heartbroken about that, but unlike the majority of readers I just couldn’t sing this book’s praises after completing it. Let’s discuss:
What I liked:
First off, Kiersten White is one hell of an author. You know those authors that you just know have got amazing skills, even after reading just one paragraph? Usually, I notice pretty early on whether I like an author’s writing or if I feel they could maybe do better; Kiersten definitely falls into the first category. From the first page, she pulls you into a fantastic story with a fantastic setting; we’re thrown headfirst into the life of Lada Dragwlya, following her birth, the birth of her brother Radu and their complex relationship with their father. Kiersten picks a style and she sticks to it – the book is dark, extremely sombre and vividly descriptive in its character’s personalities as well as the harrowing story of their lives during a time of war. I couldn’t fault the writing, and it’s one of the factors that kept my rating as high as it is.
As the baby latched on with surprising fierceness, the nurse offered her own prayer.
Let her be strong.
Let her be sly.
And let her be ugly.
Next, the characters. It’s not often I read a book with an anti-hero as the protagonist, but that’s exactly what this book gives us. Lada is amazingly volatile, slightly unhinged and quite frankly terrifying. And her character offers an interesting question: if this is the protagonist we’re given, do we support her, fear her or hope she changes? Strangely, I found myself loving her character, just because she was entirely flawed and not in a selfless, room-for-growth kind of way. She felt so real, especially in the hostile setting. Lada is Princess of Wallachia, and the complete opposite of any princess you’d expect to read about. Because both the setting and her character are completely unconventional, we get a refreshingly original story about a girl whose thirst for control and power span countries, years and outshine any humane thoughts she could have harboured.
Her spine was steel. Her heart was armor. Her eyes were fire.
Her brother Radu is a brilliant comparison. Where Lada is unafraid to exert her power, Radu spends his life a shy boy in the shadow of his scary sister. I loved the power play; Radu is as much a victim of his sister’s scorn as pretty much the rest of the world, but there is a deep sibling connection that resonates throughout the entire book. It leaves you wondering whether the roles will ever reverse. Radus’ masculinity and Lada’s dissatisfaction with her role as a woman are also fascinating to read about; Lada strives to prove that she can do what any man can, and this made her worth rooting for.
Finally, the setting. It’s always awesome when an author takes us to places and times we’ve never visited, and my motto is “the more original, the better.” And holy crap, does Kiersten deliver. Eastern Europe in the 15th century? Sign me the hell up! I loved how the story takes place in Wallachia (now Romania) and travels all the way to Turkey, and the different cultures, customs and religions we explore along the way. I was confused reading this book about how to classify it; it’s fantasy, but not really. It’s basically historical fiction with emphasis on the fiction, but the setting is pretty concrete in history. Kiersten pays amazing attention to detail, and I loved it. There are no limitations to the violence, corruption and power-plays between governments and rulers in this period, and it was great to be scared of how events could turn at any time. No one is safe, and this period of time ensures that.
It felt like fighting.
It felt like falling.
It felt like dying.
(That’s just a random quote I loved from the book, not really linked to the paragraph above 😀 )
What I disliked:
Now, the things above could have easily swayed me to give the book five stars, and in all honesty the book started out so fucking strong I could SEE why people love it so much. But I noticed that at around the halfway point, things started to go downhill.
First, the plot. Or should I say, what plot? The beginning is pretty clear, and I had no problem with the story taking us wayyyyy back to Lada’s birth and travelling through her life and childhood; it’s important to the plot and frankly I loved watching her grow from a manic child to a fearless adult. But I feel the book starts to meander into nothingness when the setting shifts from Wallachia to the Ottoman Empire. The plot tapers off; I was left wondering what the heck the point of everything was. There are pages and pages of political talk, conspiracies, and Radu and Lada fighting over a boy called Mehmed. Which brings me to:
The love triangle, if I can call it that. Ok, this part kind of gained my appreciation, because I haven’t read a lot of cases where two siblings fight over the same guy, particularly a brother and sister. But it became tedious when every second sentence was about Mehmed. The two siblings’ lives began to revolve around Mehmed, and I even feel like their personalities were altered for this boy. Where Lada was strong-willed and adamant about her distrust for everyone, she becomes an emotional wreck over Mehmed. Radu understandably is confused about his feelings; but of all things to get between the siblings- from the ongoing war to their terrible father, I’m disappointed it was goddamn Mehmed. He is not a strong character, nor interesting, nor worth the devotion they have for him.
I also felt the author forgot how old her characters were meant to be for the majority of the book. I’m not sure if this was intentional, and if children were just way more intellectually developed in the 15th century (???); but for the first half of the book at least the characters go from infancy to about the age of 12, and what 12-year-olds discuss political corruption, war, and plot strategies to keep a boy on the throne??? And order armies around? I was soooo confused about why they spoke and acted like military generals in their 20s/30s rather than children aged 11-12. I kept having to flick back to the start of chapters to check if they had aged without me knowing, but nope. Shame.
Finally, like I said, the book started out so strong that I nearly cried when I found myself getting increasingly bored and confused with the plot. I wished the author kept the setting in Wallachia at least, or kept the focus off Mehmed. I’m sure this is all to set up for the coming books, but I wish more attention was given to actual plot and less to relationship drama and religion. I loved learning about Islam, and I loved the insightful and non-prejudiced outlook on the religion (which has gotten negative connotations lately) but after a while, I got tired of learning about Islam and began to get confused about why so much emphasis was given to explaining it instead of the overall plot. A good portion of the book didn’t need to be written at all, and this was mostly pages and pages describing different religions to the reader. Although important for Radu’s character, it was definitely not enough to have so much focus on it.
So, to finish, I had to give this book 3 stars because it started off great but then, in my opinion, had a whole lot of things happening without anything ACTUALLY happening. I couldn’t see the point of where the plot went, nor could I care about the political proceedings. I’m disappointed sure, but will I give up? Nope, in the hopes that the next few books will pick up with a solid plot and focus less on Mehmed.
And that is it for now! If you have any thoughts about this book, let me know below! Did you love it? Hate it? Was it overhyped or am I totally wrong in my evaluation? I’d love to hear from you. Until next time 🙂