PrintE-mail Written by Ed Fortune

Dracula has been done to death by now, hasn’t it? We’ve seen so many different versions of good old Vlad the Impaler that it’s rare to see an original take on the character. And I Darken pulls off this minor miracle with a simple and clever approach.  This is an origin story that begins with the birth of a would-be monster, but rather than Vlad, the child is Lada Dragwlya. Much to the disgust of the father, this baby is a girl, and yet as it turns out, every inch the monster we expect.

There’s a current cliché in young adult books that the main character has to be strong and female. Yet one of the more common mistakes is to mistake the idea of ‘strong’ with violent and uncompromising, creating instead a rather bland and generic character who has no interesting perspective on the world. And I Darken tackles this cliché head on, not by weakening its lead, but by tackling the consequences of being stubborn in a dangerous world.

Lada (along with her little brother Radu), grow up in a difficult world. Her father is a cruel and vicious man, and sadly not a terribly clever one. It’s tough to be a king in 15th century Transylvania after all. Radu is clever, sensitive and smart. Lada, seeking the approval of her father, is powerful, pragmatic and cruel. As the pair mature, they both learn important lessons in power, and the book explores the different uses of strength, from the power of a well-placed word to the utility of the fist. The story is quickly paced, and balance the themes of politics, religion and self-awareness throughout the tale.

As a protagonist, Lada is not a terribly sympathetic one, but she is very, very believable and utterly compelling. The reader is caught up in her every love, every hate and every broken trust. As the mighty Ottoman Empire twists and changes and Lada and her family struggle to find their place in the world, it’s impossible not to feel for Lada. Though the book is marketed as an ‘Anti-Princess’ tale, it isn’t really. This is a story of a strong person who tries to take on the world without truly understanding how much of themselves they will have to sacrifice to achieve that goal. It’s a great read, and we’re looking forward to the inevitable sequel.



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