Today, June 28th, 2016, is the release day for And I Darken, a YA fantasy novel by Kiersten White that addresses the question: What if Vlad the Impaler had been a girl? This is the first book in a trilogy that will have you clamoring for more of this story set in the Ottoman Empire. I’m excited to share a Q&A with Kiersten White about her inspiration for And I Darken, her drafting process, and more.
About the book: 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, who’s expected to rule a nation, 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. (You can find And I Darken on Goodreads)
Lada’s story is really unique. What inspired you to write And I Darken?
I wanted to explore how people get to the point where they can justify doing terrible things in the name of relatively good goals. I’d always been interested in Vlad the Impaler, but when I imagined how much sense it would make for a girl to do those things—because just like today, in order to compete for power in the 15th century, she’d have to be more ruthless, more brutal, more anything than a man—the story all fell into place.
There is so much incredible detail that transports the reader to the Ottoman Empire. What kind of research did you do to portray it accurately?
Thousands of pages worth. I went very broad—the history of the region, everything that went into making it what it was during Mehmed’s rise—and also very specific, reading every biography on Mehmed the Conqueror and Vlad the Impaler that I could. And then of course the little things, like spending five hours researching ancient Arabic poetry conventions…for two whole lines in a book.
And I Darken is a really intricate story with so many moving parts. How much planning did you do before you started writing?
I had a pretty specific outline. I knew the shape of the book and the shape of the trilogy as a whole, which I think you have to when undertaking something like this. I always need to know where my characters are aiming. I had a very extensive pitch exploring the history and motivations, as well as why I wanted to tell this particular story. But you always hit a point where you have to just go, trusting that your brain is laying foundations you aren’t consciously aware of yet. It’s one of the magical parts of drafting!
One thing I loved about And I Darken is that it tackles modern issues surrounding love, friendship, and sexuality in a very different time period. Was that something you intentionally set out to do in this story?
Yes, absolutely—because I don’t think those are modern issues. They’ve always been issues, but because things like women’s lives and LGBTQIA+ people are left out of historical narratives, we don’t hear about them. I wanted to write a fictional history that didn’t erase them. Also, playing out struggles with faith and identity on a historical background gave me a lot of freedom to really dive in without worrying about modern constructs.
And I Darken certainly doesn’t shy away from brutality and struggle. What did you find most challenging while writing? What did you enjoy the most?
My natural strengths in writing are dialogue and characters. But historical fiction requires a lot of description to weight the narrative and give the readers a really tangible sense of place. So that was definitely a struggle for me—something that I had to consciously work at. I’m really proud of the result, but it wasn’t easy!
As far as what I enjoyed most, I always love character interactions. I was surprised by how much I ended up loving Huma, Mehmed’s mother. She is one of those characters that constantly surprised me while writing her scenes.
If you could spend a day with a character from And I Darken, who would it be and why? (You can safely assume that there would be no assassination attempts or anything of that nature)
I’m so glad you put in that disclaimer! Because yeah, I’d be super dead in that world. I’m going to go with my darling Radu (post-growing up). He’s so sweet and charming, and you know you’d have the best day ever with him at your side. I’d say Lada, but even if I was safe from assassination attempts, I still don’t like my odds of getting through a day with her physically intact.
What were your favorite books when you were a young adult? Did that influence your own writing at all?
My early teen years were spent mostly in high fantasy series. In high school I didn’t read for fun at all, which was reflective of how much of myself I lost during those years. I didn’t fall back in love with reading until Harry Potter. It gave me permission to simply read for joy and entertainment. Then I read Twilight, which was so fun that it pushed me into the wider world of YA lit—and helped me discover that was where I wanted to write.
About Kiersten White: Kiersten White is the NYT bestselling author of the Paranormalcy trilogy, the Mind Games series, Illusions of Fate, The Chaos of Stars, In the Shadows with artist Jim Di Bartolo, and the upcoming historical reimagining, And I Darken. She has one tall husband and three small children and lives near the ocean, where her life is perfectly normal. Visit her at www.kierstenwhite.com.
Thank you to Kiersten for taking the time to answer our questions about And I Darken, and to Penguin Random House for sharing this book with us!