Casting Light On And I Darken

and I darkenAt first, I enjoyed the fact that the main character was a little savage. It seemed like an interesting choice to cast Dracula as a girl– after all this could add a creepy dimension to the legend- but only for a little while… because this turns out to be a big ask when it comes to the suspension of disbelief. There was just so much cognitive dissonance in making Dracula a girl. For starters, she’d be a valueless hostage and no one would much care what happened to her. And then there’s the second issue of her overpowering tons of men and it being *totally* unrealistic- she doesn’t have superpowers, she’s much younger than them and women don’t have the same muscle density as men. There is also a reason why the whole “girl dresses up as a boy” trope exists (which of course she eventually does anyway, but not until she’s done a gazillion stupid things that would have got her teeth knocked out boy or girl). I’m sorry, but this is not something I can suspend my disbelief for in a historical setting, especially when the author constantly kept drawing my eye to the reality. It says a lot that I have an easier time buying Stoker’s blood-sucking version than this nonsense.

vlad the impaler

What I never thought when looking at this was “this would make a very charming lady…”

Frankly, this is all made a lot worse by the fact that Vladimir Dracula is not a sympathetic historical figure, no matter how much he suffered, and making him a girl doesn’t make the character any more likeable. He’s just too much “anti” and not enough “hero”. I found it nigh on impossible to root for Lada. No matter what battle was going on, I was never interested in who lived or died. It doesn’t help that she practically crawled from the cradle with a knife in her hand and the promise she will one day kill her brother. The fact that she is always a little psycho also undermines any potential growth she could have as a villain. She doesn’t end up twisted and dark because of torture- in fact there’s none of this- apparently it’s too difficult to overpower a little girl (I swear one of these asides is gonna get someone to yell “internalised misogyny” at me, to which I say ignore biology at your own peril). Plus the story tries realllly hard to convince us that she’s sly- but she’s about as cunning as an ox throughout- I have no idea why someone didn’t just lop her head off. I think I prefer to keep to the history books for this character.

I could not pin down why Mehmed was remotely interested in Lada either. In fact, I had no idea why he even befriended them, let alone loved her. I feel like this could have been expanded upon. It was also hard to buy is piety when he had a literal harem of women- who literally get compared to stools at one point and he doesn’t object- and again I wondered how am I supposed to like this character?

Which led me onto another problem: too often it felt like this book was trying to uphold the Ottoman Empire as a paradigm of virtue. Again, sorry, this doesn’t work if you’re going to show some of the gory reality and the subjugation of other sovereign nations. This was at its worst when it presented Huma as simultaneously powerless and yet tried to make bold claims that she’s somehow powerful- such as epitomised by this quote: “You see this as a prison. But you are wrong. This is my court. This is my throne. This is my kingdom. The cost was my freedom and my body.” This presents her:

  1. Like she has a choice about entering the harem
  2. Delivered like she’s in a position of strength
  3. And yet acknowledges the price she’s paid

There’s just too much contradiction in those sentences. Maybe it would make sense if she was presented as delusional, yet it felt more like it was saying sex slavery is liberating- sarcastic yayyy! It’s an odd attempt to sanitise the past that I can’t get my head round– either it was really bad and oppressive and we move on OR it was idealistic and we move backwards. You can’t simultaneously have this “she’s not treated nicely cos she’s a woman *and* look at her kickass and break all the social conventions- it just beggars belief.

The one thing I liked was that Radu was gay and in love with Mehmed. I did look it up and allegedly it was the other way round, but either way, I enjoyed this subplot. That’s not to say I liked Radu’s character- he came across as a bit of a pansy- but he was somewhat more interesting and was at least shown to be convincing.

Despite everything I’ve said, this wasn’t a terrible book: this had an interesting narrative and there was a strong ending. It was well written and entertaining, which always makes me reluctant to be too harsh. But I just didn’t buy what it was selling. I couldn’t latch onto any of the characters and I can’t see myself reading the next one. This was sadly not for me.

Rating: 2½/5 bananas

hand-drawn-bananahand-drawn-banana half-a-hand-drawn-banana

Have you read this? What did you think about it? Do you agree or disagree with any of my thoughts? Let me know in the comments!

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62 thoughts on “Casting Light On And I Darken

  1. Ariadna Ríos Varemkow says:

    Your insight is very in-depth and descriptive of what your feelings are, towards the book. While at the same time, not really telling what the plot is about. Have not read the book, but my curiosity has certainly arisen, based on what I read here. 👌🏼

    Liked by 2 people

  2. (Danielle) Books, Vertigo and Tea says:

    Ok, I adore you and your blog but will have to respectfully agree to disagree for once. And I cannot help but feel the treatment and misery that Lada’s mother received (which eventually led to her abandoning her) played some small part in how heartless she is 😉 but even if this did not work for you, I still think you are the bee’s knees 🐝🖤

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Beware Of The Reader says:

    Well I love your analysis only …I did not try to “buy” it but just “went for it” and I found Lada was one of my favorite heroines! Yes I get why you give only 2,5 stars but I did not go into the book trying to compare with the real dracula or …I just lived the story and rooted for the characters Mehmed aside. So I respectfully disagree on this one 😉

    Liked by 3 people

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      Hehe well fair enough- I think that’s a better way to go into it- although I will say I didn’t mean that I was trying to compare, I just couldn’t help it cos the history has always interested me. But that’s no problem- I’m glad you got more out of it than I did!!

      Like

  4. daleydowning says:

    This one was an absolute no from me! After having heard, as a kid, that, unlike the other stereotypical movie monsters – the wolfman, Frankenstein’s monster, the creature from the Black Lagoon – Dracula was actually inspired by a real person, I researched the real Vlad, and there is totally NO way he wouldn’t be turning in his grave over this ridiculous farce of his life. (Interesting side note: Where Vlad the Impaler is supposed to be buried, they’ve never found bones. Dun-dun-dun!)

    A lot of the low reviews I saw on Goodreads for this title were from native Transylvanians, in fact, and they were LIVID, because, while we tend to think of Vlad as more of a despot, to them he’s a national hero, since he stopped the Ottomans from invading their country. All the other small nations in that part of Eastern Europe were being swallowed by the Turks in that period, and thanks to Vlad the Impaler, though his methods were brutal, Transylvania remained free. And when, as you pointed out, the Ottoman Empire was CRAZY cruel and harsh back then, there is NOT A SINGLE reason under the sun we should consider them the heroes of this tale, either!

    Liked by 4 people

    • Maria H. says:

      Wow! Thanks for sharing that fascinating history. I live under a rock and didn’t even know Dracula was based on a real person (so the book probably wouldn’t bother me), but I wonder if there are any great history or historical fictions based on the real person?

      Like

    • theorangutanlibrarian says:

      I’m glad I’m not the only one who feels this way!! I totally get what you mean- I did the same. So so true!!! That is a cool fact!!

      Ah that really doesn’t surprise me, this was so far from accurate. And yes, I have no idea why some people choose to glamorise it. I agree!!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Kelly | Another Book in the Wall says:

    Lovely review! You provided such great insight on this book! I’ve been curious about this one and have it on my tbr! I enjoyed seeing your take on the story. I’m not sure this book will be one of my favorites, so I’ll push it back a little further on my tbr. Haha

    Like

  6. Lily @ Sprinkles of Dreams says:

    I’m so glad I’m not the only one who didn’t “buy what this book is selling” as well! That’s honestly the perfect way to put it. And I don’t get why both Lada and Radu were in love with Mehmed either, he was such a bland character.

    Like

  7. Never Not Reading says:

    It’s easy to get annoyed when an author tries to modernize the past. I am also not a huge fan of these gender-benders. Like, there was a Lizzie Bennett Diaries-esque YouTube show about Frankenstein, and they made Dr. Frankenstein a woman and I kind of felt like, why? What does that even add to the story?

    Like

  8. lucindablogs says:

    Internalised misogyny!

    Do I win a prize?

    This book sounds like everything I hate. Plot inconsistencies, incongruous detail for the time period it was set in and a comparison of women to chairs (which is so close to my sexy lamp analogy I can’t help but wonder if they’ve read my blog!). So yeah, I don’t think this book is for me either. Smashing review!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Vera says:

    I think it’s an absolutely fair review. So well thought out and articulated. 👌👏It’s disappointing when a book doesn’t deliver but I could see myself nodding yes to all those points you listed out as to why it didn’t work out.

    I think my biggest issue would be re. growth. I love when a villain grows (or any character on that matter). The lack of it = I was disappointedly away….

    Like

  10. thecorneroflaura says:

    I did enjoy this book but, I have to admit, the romance between Lada and Mehmed is very annoying. I liked all the research on the Ottoman Empire and fourteenth century politics that went into this book, though. Well researched books make me happy.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Leah says:

    I also didn’t really like this book although I didn’t think it was terrible as well. I could never put my finger on why I didn’t like it. I had multiple people ask me if they should read this book and I could never figure out what to tell them because.. yeah it was good writing and an interesting, well-developed story but no because it wasn’t good. I don’t really know how a book can do that but it did. I think one of my main problems was the romance aspect, like you said. I didn’t think Mehmed was worth falling in love with for either character. I also wish Lada would have had just a little more about her I could root for.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Madam Mim says:

    Oh dear! It’s a shame since it seems like it could have been a great read – the premise is good. But if it defies all logic, then that tends to ruin it for me too!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Winged Cynic says:

    Aww, I’d been very curious to see whether this book was good or not, so it’s a shame it didn’t hold up. The premise sounds really interesting, but I absolutely agree that if the logic aspect doesn’t hold up, the story and investment doesn’t either.

    Also, the comparison of a harem to stools made me laugh; I agree I wouldn’t enjoy a dude who doesn’t defend this either, but it’s kinda funny. 😂 Great review!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. The Laughable Baker says:

    I never, ever read books based on Dracula. I find them annoying, probably because I am Romanian and this is part of my history and something is always misrepresented. So I took some pleasure in reading about all that went wrong with this book haha!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Marina_Books of Magic says:

    Oh wow, when I read this plot some time ago, it sounded horrible so I skipped this one, but now that I’ve read your thoughts on it it sounds even worse, if that’s possible. 😂 I’m not much of a patriot, but my country was occupied by the ottoman empire for five centuries, and the things they did were gruesome, more than Vlad gruesome actually, so any kind of glorification of them is not for me, bye bye. 😀 Also – that picture of Vlad’s and how you can’t imagine him as a girl – 😂😂😂

    Like

  16. klkranesya says:

    Interesting…I’ve been eyeing this book for a while. The premise seemed unusual, but there was something about it that never made me tip over the pick it up and purchase it side. Thanks for your review!!

    Like

  17. Anna @MyBookishDream says:

    I haven’t read And I Darken yet, but I really want to. The whole concept of the book just intrigues me and I want to give it a shot. Too bad that you didn’t enjoy it. Amazing review! I really enjoyed reading your thoughts on this book. 🙂

    Like

  18. LizScanlon says:

    Right… *rolls up sleeves*… I have seen so so so so many reviews and I have been left hanging 50/50 with the book… it’s super interesting to get your take on it, especially with those specific examples you brought to our attention. I think it definitely grabbed my interest how Dracula as a girl would have worked, but Stoker’s Dracula is one of the classics I hold in high regard and the history of Vlad the Impaler… sheesh, I was quite young when I delved into all that history so…seeing you approach this from your specific angle, I cannot absolutely fault you there.
    Makes me want to read this book now.. to see on which side I fall myself, heh…
    Brilliant review!

    Like

  19. Beth (Reading Every Night) says:

    Great review for this book, although it’s a shame you didn’t enjoy it much. And I Darken is one I really enjoyed but I don’t know a lot about the history of Vlad the Impaler the implications of his character and what the author did by changing him into Lada in her book like you mentioned in your review so I was probably able to take it more as a story independent of the history you know?
    Do you plan on picking up the second book in the series (if you haven’t already)?

    Like

  20. Lashaan (Bookidote) says:

    Wow, phenomenal review. I’ve only seen positive reviews for this, but your character analysis and thoughts on this book really enlightened me. I didn’t even know we had a female Dracula in this one. How intriguing. Sucks it didn’t work out though. Again, awesome review as always!

    Liked by 1 person

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