But hands painted red are hands that do what needs to be done.
In this gender-bent retelling of Vlad the Impaler, we meet Lada, a brutal princess who has been taken from her home in Wallachia and thrust into the Ottoman courts by her father. Abandoned in a den of vipers, surrounded by enemies, Lada uses the target on her back as motivation to become the strongest and most skilled, so that she will no longer be at the mercy of men.
If you like Lady Macbeth – ambitious, ruthless, brutal, violent – you’ll love Lada. It was…I don’t want to use the word fun because murder and brutality isn’t fun. But it was an exciting change of pace to have a female protagonist who is so unapologetically ruthless and brutal and violent. Lada completely rejects all that is feminine and delicate, and the reader is constantly reminded that Lada is ugly and fierce (in the traditional sense), and destined for failure in feminine pursuits. So often when we get a SFC (“strong female character”), even if she is skilled in violence, it is in a way that does not sacrifice her feminine appeal. She knows how to infiltrate a formal event in a form-fitting floor length gown and 6-inch heels. She seduces men to lure them into a false sense of security before killing them. Not Lada. She’s not afraid to get her hands bloody. She’s not afraid to get blood and flesh in her mouth. She is ferocious and terrifying, and she loves it.
In this story we get Islamic representation. The Ottoman Empire’s official religion is Islam, and the characters are seen responding to the call to prayer and conversing about the 5 pillars of Islam. Now, I can’t speak to the accuracy of this representation, because I do not know a lot about Islam. But I can say that it felt like positive representation. Radu (Lada’s brother), completely falls in love with the religion, and you can see him find peace and fulfillment as he discovers more about the religion.
We also get LGBT representation. Again, I cannot speak to the accuracy, but it felt positive.
Also: please note that this is a historical fiction book, not a fantasy story. This is not a Dracula retelling, but a Vlad the Impaler retelling. Kiersten White has tried to remain true to the history of the legends, rather than the myths that surround them.
I whole-heartedly enjoyed And I Darken. If you are not squeamish about violence, and you need a break from the repetitive tropes that abound in today’s Young Adult section, please pick it up. And then pre-order Now I Rise because it’s coming out in June.