Agony's Shelf: 'And I Darken'
Ladislav and Radu are the children of Vlad Dracul, prince of Wallachia and vassal of Murad, Sultan of the Ottomon Empire. They grow up opposites of each other- the daughter, Lada, as fierce and feral as the son, Radu, is gentle and fearful- both striving for their father's love in the harsh and inhospitable environment of their father's court.
But Vlad Dracul is a weak man, fighting only for himself and his own power, attempting to play both sides and supporting neither. Eventually Murad runs out of patience with him and summons him to account for his spineless and dishonorable conduct. Dracul is made to sign new peace accords with Murad and this time to ensure his good behavior he must leave Lada and Radu behind to grow up in the Ottoman courts, helpless and defenseless hostages in an alien world that despises them.
Left only with their own wits, Lada's tenaciousness, and Radu's intelligence, the two children fight for their survival, growing and maturing and ultimately choosing two very different paths as they reach adulthood.
you must be warned, as I wish I had been warned: this book with leave you in mourning, and exultation, and deepest distress. Whether you choose to stare blankly at a wall for hours or pace your room muttering senseless imprecations after reading it, nothing will seem enough to do justice to the intricate things you will think and feel. There are a few rare stories that change you, that make you consider yourself and the world around you in a different way. This is one of them.
The choice of characters is intriguing, the children of Vlad Dracul just obscure enough to excite curiosity and their father just relevant enough to give you at least some bare framework upon which to work within a historical context. The period is executed flawlessly, all the architecture, clothing, politics, etc. serving to gently inform the reader so that the story makes sense without becoming too teach-y. It is a time and a place that your Aunty, a history buff in her own modest right, knew nothing of when starting and hereafter will view with much greater interest when opportunities to learn more present themselves.
The two main characters, Lada and Radu, are different enough from the everyday person to keep the story brisk, realistic enough to feel like people you could know and like in real life. There are more than a few twists and turns that will take the reader by surprise-- again, this is not the kind of 'coming of age' story you are used to, with sympathetic prose and predictable, inspirational moments. This story is told in a straightforward fashion, businesslike but with an eye toward what the characters think and are feeling to keep it from becoming too autobiographic. Everything presents as if the author is simply telling you how things were and what happened, so much so that you'll itch to research for yourself and discover if Lada and Radu were real and if this is a faithful retelling of events.
Rarely have I read such an organic story, one that seems to spring to life on the page, every moment moving forward toward an unavoidable end that nevertheless surprises and enthralls. A highly recommended book for the average to voracious reader, ages sixteen and up, that I will treasure for years to come.
Your Truly Devoted,