Review taken from my Goodreads.
Rating — 1 star
Have y’all ever had a book craving?
Like, you’re in the mood to read one specific genre, and trying to force yourself to read a book outside this genre means your enjoyment will automatically decrease?
Before I started And I Darken, I wanted to read a nice, juicy YA high fantasy that I could sink my teeth into, a completely different world that would help me escape Bernie Sanders’ losses in the US election and the ongoing coronavirus scares.
There was nothing on my shelf or my TBR of books I owned that really fit that description, so I picked And I Darken as I thought it was fantasy. I think I chose it because of some bad marketing, since Goodreads classed it as fantasy even though… it isn’t, really. Other than some historical inaccuracies, there wasn’t exactly magic. It could have been true.
So, my opinions on this book could’ve been based on those false expectations, but it wasn’t completely that. There was a lot wrong with the book on its own, if you divorce my expectations from the content. Let’s get into it, then.
First of all, it was mind-numbingly boring.
By the end, I just had to hunker down and force myself through the book like it was a homework assignment so I wouldn’t get behind on my reading challenge. It made revising Newton’s laws for my Physics test seem like an excellent way to spend an evening, and made reading dry news articles about the stock markets seem like the most intellectually stimulating thing I could be doing with my time.
I’m not even sure why it was so boring — I mean, I love history. Wait, wait, scratch that, I love the interesting parts of history. The weeks of lessons we did on the Provisional Government in Russia in 1917 for my history GCSE class turned my brain to soup, although they were still more fun and interesting than this book. I mean, I don’t have any particular bias against the Ottoman Empire since I haven’t studied it in much detail, and I thought Vlad the Impaler would definitely be interesting, since he inspired Dracula with all that killing.
But no, this book managed to make Dracula boring by turning his life into a 475 page slog about tutors, vague court drama, and childhood trauma.
The first 200 or so pages was just endless descriptions of Lada and Radu as thirteen year olds just going to lessons and having minor petty drama while complaining about all of it. Where was the intrigue and complex power struggles I was promised? If I wanted to read all that boring shit, plus the childhood trauma, I could just reread my old journals from when I was younger for free and not waste seven quid.
After that, when they got older, it got a little more interesting when more stuff happened like war and assassination attempts, but then other factors came into play that just kept it down as a slog I had to push myself through.
Mostly, it was the characters. I hated pretty much all of them and I could barely connect with any of them, so I couldn’t bring myself to care about their boring childhoods or times spent sitting at court doing nothing or pointless romantic relationships (and we’ll fucking get to that).
The only exception was Radu, who I vaguely tolerated because I could empathise with him as a bullying victim, and later someone going through a gay identity crisis, especially since his environment was very hostile towards LGBT people. He had a lot of internalised homophobia, I could tell, so I could see my younger self in him, as I was also scared to admit to myself that I was gay. I’d always respected the LGBT community from a distance but thought it would never be me, so it was a shock when I realised it was.
Radu reminded me slightly of Shinji from Neon Genesis Evangelion, which is very high praise as I saw myself in and liked Shinji for the same reasons I did with Radu. The major similarity is them both going through a gay identity crisis against the backdrop of some boring power struggles/cool mecha battles. Although that would make Mehmed Kaworu, and comparing Kaworu with Mehmed, and by extension the holy bible that is Neon Genesis Evangelion with the hot mess that is this book, is like comparing a gold bar with a trash can.
I guess we’ll have to address the elephant in the room, then — Lada and Mehmed.
They both sucked, and Radu deserved better than Mehmed, so maybe they deserved each other. But wow did their insipid, banal romance drive me up the fucking wall.
(Am I using big words in an attempt to be taken seriously when I’m yelling about a YA book? It’s more likely than you’d think!)
My major problem is that it’s completely and deliberately ahistorical. Fun fact, but in real life Mehmed and Radu were most likely lovers, according to Wikipedia, or at the very least Mehmed returned Radu’s feelings. I understand changing history to some degree, as I didn’t care about changing Vlad the Impaler’s gender, but deliberately removing satisfying LGBT representation and the chance at giving a canonically gay character a happy ending for a fucking straight enemies to lovers romance? That is a legitimate problem.
I thought we had moved past this way of doing LGBT rep, that the LGBT characters could only have tragic endings. I’m sorry, I didn’t realise the Hayes Code was still being enforced! It’s actually really harmful to reinforce these outdated, backward views.
And besides, why would you give up the chance to write meaningful LGBT rep for what, a straight enemies to lovers romance? Fucking really?
There are so many of those in fiction it’s not even funny. What’s even worse is that they’re somehow all terrible, except Han and Leia, Mr Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet, and maybe Beatrice and Benedick from Much Ado About Nothing (that my class is reading in English) because they’re actually kinda sweet, and Shakespeare is a genius and all. So if only Shakespeare, Jane Austen, and the writers of one of the highest rated movies of all time on Letterboxd, your average YA writer shouldn’t even try.
I mean, look at the trainwreck that was “Reylo”, whatever the hell Kylo Ren and Rey had going on between them that was apparently some attempt at a romance. The enemies to lovers trope only works with LGBT relationships, I’ve decided, and I’m not just biased because I’m gay myself. I’m going to start demanding compensation for sitting through all these boring straight relationships, because I’ve had it up to here. And Mehmed and Lada were no different — their relationship was just as dull and unoriginal as all the others.
I’m not going to keep flogging this dead horse because I have better things to do, but, bottom line, this book was a mess. A boring, overdone, straightwashed mess with terrible characters that wasn’t even as well written as everyone said. I won’t be continuing with the series, regardless if it gets better, because this one book has already wasted enough of my time and money. Sayonara.