And I Darken by Kiersten White

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that we’d started a new YA book club at work, and while we haven’t quite gotten around to the club part, I have now read the book.


And I Darken by Kiersten White boldly bills the lead character as the latest in a long line of heroines that includes Ellen Ripley, Elizabeth Bennett, Hermione Granger and Buffy Summers.


Books that make these sort of claims tend to fall into two categories, the vast majority of them are perfectly good books that are the victims of over eager publicists, or they genuinely are that good a book.


The latter are, unfortunately, rare. The reason good characters stand out so much, male or female, is because of their relatively small number among a vast sea of their merely adequate counterparts.


Telling your readers that this is the next iconic name in books is a bit like purposefully trying to write a tweet that goes viral. It should just happen naturally.


Having said all that, does Lada Dracul warrant being added to the list of slayers, spies and Scarlett O’Hara?


It’s a tentative ‘yes’ from me – and here’s why:


And I Darken is not just the tale of Lada – it’s also the tale of her brother, Radu (here’s mistake number one in the marketing – it’s not just for girls, Radu is as strong and compelling character as his sister).


They are the younger children of the leader of Wallachia, and he is absent from much of their early lives. However as they grow, he begins to sense something about them both. When it comes to leaving the country, he takes them with him, but ultimately has to leave them behind with the Sultan in order to safeguard his homeland.


Radu, younger, sensitive, but with a gift for charming people (you can see where this is going) starts to adapt, while Lada contrarian ugly duckling that she is resists, however they both befriend Mehmed, a boy they later discover is the son of the sultan.


And so we have our threesome. Every good story needs a trio of central characters be they Harry, Ron and Hermione; Kirk, Spock and McCoy; or Wakko, Yakko and Dot (the Animaniacs for those uneducated of you who need telling) – and And I Darken is no exception


Some of the peripheral characters are vague and forgettable, a trait that is unfortunate when a few of them pop up unexpectedly later on, causing me absolutely no degree of the intended surprise as I have no clue who they actually are – but our core characters are well defined, and not just our central threesome.


Plot wise the story is a little Game of Thrones-esque, a little hard to follow at times, but you get the gist, and understand all the important bits. There’s also some gratuitous nudity, although no dragons (SPOILER ALERT: Or are there? – that’ll make sense when you get to the end, it’s amused me).


I was surprised to discover that the book is largely based on true facts – Radu the handsome exists, albeit largely as a footnote in the story of Vlad the Impaler. Here our writer has taken some poetic licence, namely, taking Vlad and turning him into a teenage girl named Lada.


I know when I’m reading a good book, not only do I race through it, but I break my rules of how long I’m going to read for – and on this one, not only did I do that, but I also found myself desperately reading every part of the proof copy jacket to find out if any more were planned (yes they are, this is the first in a trilogy).


Does it live up to it’s promise? As I said at the beginning, it’s a tentative yes – I don’t believe anyone would have listed Buffy Summers or Katniss Everdeen great female characters of our time after their first outing, but the promise was there.


The promise is definitely there with Lada, but this is more than her. Radu plays a huge part in this book, sharing the narrative as equally with his sister. I await the subsequent books eagerly and hope that Radu continues to share this story with Lada. Together, the two of them could usher in the next big series in teen fiction.


And I Darken scores 4.1 out of 5 from me. It is published on 7th July by Corgi Books


#BEDM14: Jammy-Dodger-Man

I have quite an odd relationship with superheroes.

I find the notion of them a little bit odd.

Spider-man. Batman. Superman. Wonder Woman. For a start, I find their names a bit… dull. I guess they were cutting edge names when they were first created, but we’re decades down the line now, it’s all a bit cliché.

But I can forgive them that. (Especially as I’d admit to wanting my own version of that name. I’d probably end up being BiscuitMan – now there’s a superhero I can get on board with. Flying around the world in a never-ending battle against those 4pm munchies)

No, where I really take issue is the supposed goodness of these characters.

They are given great powers, and yes, we all know that with great power comes great responsibility.

But why should I admire these people because they do good things with these great powers. I mean, I guess I’m grateful they’re not doing bad things with it, but it sort of underwhelms me a bit.

Let’s take Buffy Summers as a case in point (another silly name but at least she’s not SlayerGirl) because she’s the superhero that I’m most qualified to comment on.

She’s a superhero for the modern day, and perhaps quite far away from the traditional type of superhero, however on the points I’m going to illustrate now, she’s quite similar.

Among other things which are not really elaborated on, but presumably include heightened senses, and a keen sense of strategy, she is gifted with super strength. Great.

She uses that strength to go around beating up bad guys. Fabulous. Even better.

But she’s also gifted with some great friends. I’m going to pick on Xander in particular.

He’s a bit whiny. I don’t find him particularly attractive, but the key thing is, he’s there with Buffy through seven years of fighting evil.

And he’s normal. He doesn’t have super strength. He’s generally a bit of an idiot. But he tries. And it’s harder for him than it is for Buffy, because he’s not gifted with the same in-born skills.

Sure, he might not achieve everything that Buffy does, he certainly doesn’t save the world as often as she does… but here’s the thing: He does save the world.

When a world-class writer wins the Booker Prize, we’re all pleased for him or her, and we probably all adore the book. But me? I reserve my admiration for the lifeguard that didn’t win, but DID make it to the shortlist.

Conversely – a lifeguard during a storm saving fifteen people from drowning. That’s amazing, I don’t want to do that down, but it IS their job.

It’s what they’re good at. In the same storm, a world-class writer puts down his pen, and without second thought dives in and saves just one person. That’s incredible, and that’s what gets my admiration.

Superheroes come in all shapes and sizes, but what makes a hero super, isn’t the good they achieve with their natural abilities. It’s the good they achieve without them.

Prompt: Which superhero do you identify with and why?