Book Reviews, To My Reader

Book Review: And I Darken by Kiersten White

27190613Published: June 28th, 2016 by Delacorte Press.

Format: Hardcover, 475 pages.

Goodreads Summary: No one expects a princess to be brutal. And Lada Dragwlya likes it that way. Ever since she and her gentle younger brother, Radu, were wrenched from their homeland of Wallachia and abandoned by their father to be raised in the Ottoman courts, Lada has known that being ruthless is the key to survival. She and Radu are doomed to act as pawns in a vicious game, an unseen sword hovering over their every move. For the lineage that makes them special also makes them targets.

Lada despises the Ottomans and bides her time, planning her vengeance for the day when she can return to Wallachia and claim her birthright. Radu longs only for a place where he feels safe. And when they meet Mehmed, the defiant and lonely son of the sultan, Radu feels that he’s made a true friend—and Lada wonders if she’s finally found someone worthy of her passion.

But Mehmed is heir to the very empire that Lada has sworn to fight against—and that Radu now considers home. Together, Lada, Radu, and Mehmed form a toxic triangle that strains the bonds of love and loyalty to the breaking point.

Thoughts: And I Darken follows two siblings who find themselves prisoners of the Ottoman Empire in the 1400s. It is most notably described as a gender bend of Vlad the Impaler, a brutal ruler of what is now known as Romania. As soon as I heard about this novel I couldn’t click ‘read’ fast enough. It’s refreshing to see YA branching out and covering a topic of history that not many people know about. Kiersten White has done her research, for the book stays consistent in historical accuracy throughout. While reading, I felt like I learned more regardless of my prior knowledge of this time in history. It’s fascinating! The author has mentioned that she will take more creative liberties in the next two books to make her story work.

Our two main characters captured my attention instantly. Ladislav is an unattractive young woman fighting to be a warrior in a man’s world. She demands respect and breaks every rule of the Ottoman court as she attempts to return to her homeland. On the other side of the coin, her brother Radu must find strength in a different way. Although he has the benefit of being a handsome male, Radu is punished for his kindness which many around him perceive as a weakness. Unlike his sister, he finds a place in the Ottoman Empire despite other misfortunes. Lada and Radu both find themselves at the mercy of their emotions and this acts a catalyst for much of the novel. They will work with and against each other to secure their place in this society. Both characters are complex and illustrate important gender themes highlighted within the novel.

“As the baby latched on with surprising fierceness, the nurse offered her own prayer.
Let her be strong.
Let her be sly.
And let her be ugly.”

And I Darken transports readers into a vivid world of castles surrounded by mountains and ornate buildings containing harems. The writing was dense, but this seemed fitting for the story. When I was reading I was completely enveloped by the setting and found it difficult to pull myself out of it. I will admit that the plot is slow and meticulous. Therefore, it requires your utmost attention as every sentence reveals pieces of the story. Knowing this, And I Darken may not be for everyone. The first book covers a large amount of time in the span of roughly 500 pages. The Conquerors Saga will consist of three books, the next one releasing in Summer of 2017. For readers who enjoy Historical Fiction, Fantasy, or YA this is a novel you don’t want to miss. This brutal novel will gut you.

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Book Reviews, To My Reader

Book Review: The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

18047651Released: August 26th, 2014 by Ecco.

Format: Paperback; 416 pages.

Goodreads Summary: On a brisk autumn day in 1686, eighteen-year-old Nella Oortman arrives in Amsterdam to begin a new life as the wife of illustrious merchant trader Johannes Brandt. But her new home, while splendorous, is not welcoming. Johannes is kind yet distant, always locked in his study or at his warehouse office–leaving Nella alone with his sister, the sharp-tongued and forbidding Marin.

But Nella’s world changes when Johannes presents her with an extraordinary wedding gift: a cabinet-sized replica of their home. To furnish her gift, Nella engages the services of a miniaturist–an elusive and enigmatic artist whose tiny creations mirror their real-life counterparts in eerie and unexpected ways . . .

Johannes’ gift helps Nella to pierce the closed world of the Brandt household. But as she uncovers its unusual secrets, she begins to understand–and fear–the escalating dangers that await them all. In this repressively pious society where gold is worshipped second only to God, to be different is a threat to the moral fabric of society, and not even a man as rich as Johannes is safe. Only one person seems to see the fate that awaits them. Is the miniaturist the key to their salvation . . . or the architect of their destruction?

Thoughts: This book has been sitting on my shelf for the longest time. I was surprised when it appeared on my Second Semester English syllabus for this year.  Now, I don’t know much about the country of Amsterdam or its full scale involvement in the Dutch East India Company, but this story did shed some light on my lack on knowledge. I found this story easy to read and believe the author did an impeccable job researching the topic. This is all great, but I can’t shake this feeling that the novel fell short somewhere.

As Jessie Burton’s debut novel, The Miniaturist is vividly rendered with the magic of 16th century Netherlands. Nella Oortman has been preparing for her inevitable role as a wife and mother. Anticipating the moment when she reaches her marriage bed and can contribute something to her new household. However, events don’t unfold as she hopes. I found this book to be deeply rooted in the many aspects of gender roles and attitudes of human sexuality. We are met with a outspoken protagonist that must figure out how she fits into an influential family.

The novel has this underlying magical element to it, that ultimately becomes the source of mystery for the entire plot. How does this miniature doll house affect Nella’s new life? With the help of a stranger she is able to bring life into her dreary home. Although I enjoyed this aspect, I found that the novel lacked an important emotional element to it. I also found myself somewhat confused by a few parts, but maybe that means I need to read the story again. I may do that at some point. Burton has no shortage of shock worthy twists, but ultimately I didn’t feel a sense of closure. At least not in a way that satisfied me. That’s not to say that the author didn’t wrap up the story nicely.

Each character is unique and the story is easy to to get immersed into. For me, the most fascinating part of this novel was the author’s inspiration for it. I loved hearing about how Burton came across an intricate cabinet while on vacation, and built her entire story around an inanimate object. You can tell she took great care in the creation of the story.

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Yes, I will decorate my house, Marin, Nella thinks – with all the things that you detest.”

This just goes to show that writers can take inspiration from anywhere. I’m a huge fan of historical fiction novels, and although The Miniaturist didn’t make it onto my favorite books list, the story is full of intrigue and magic. Readers will have no problem getting swept into this sixteenth century novel. A stunning, and historically accurate debut by author and actor Jessie Burton. I look forward to reading more from her.

Let me know what you think.

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