When Kiersten White and her husband took a trip to Romania, where he had served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, they didn’t plan on it being a Vlad the Impaler sightseeing tour.
Just about everywhere they went, they saw something connected to Vlad the Impaler, including his birthplace, places he lived, the city where he was held captive and churches where he was a patron.
White drew on those experiences as she wrote “And I Darken” (Delacorte Press, $18.99, ages 14 and up), the first book in a trilogy based on the life of Vlad the Impaler — but replacing Vlad with a girl named Ladislav.
“If you are a girl and you want the same things that a guy does, you have to work harder and be better and you have to do more at every stage in order to get it,” White said in an interview with the Deseret News.
Vlad and his brother, known as Radu the Handsome, spent their formative years in the Ottoman Empire’s court as ransom to guarantee the loyalty of their father, the ruler of Wallachia, which is now part of present-day Romania.
There, they were educated and were contemporaries of Mehmed the Conqueror, who would later be the sultan of the Ottoman Empire and clash with Vlad the Impaler.
“In history, there are periods where there are these congregations of larger-than-life people who react to and build off of each other,” White said. “I always wondered if they didn’t have each other to bounce off of, would any of these people have done these things?”
At the time of Vlad, along with Mehmed the Conqueror were military strategist John Hunyadi in Hungary and Stephen the Great in Moldova.
As a college student, White read Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” as well as “In Search of Dracula,” which explores Vlad the Impaler’s life.
With all the intersecting ties and relationships, White, a Utah native and Brigham Young University graduate who now lives in California with her family, formed a story idea that she felt she had to tell.
“I like history when it’s personalized, when you get those specifics and get a feel for the people behind it,” she said.
‘And I Darken’
“And I Darken” brings to life the formative childhood of Ladislav, known as Lada, and her younger brother, Radu, and what their time in the Ottoman Empire might have been like. White’s intriguing, tangled story includes Lada and Radu forming a friendship and alliance with Mehmed. They each have different goals and responsibilities and react differently to their situations, but they also deeply care about each other, though they have markedly different ways of showing it.
Mehmed has to defend his claim as sultan and see that the Empire stays strong. Lada is loyal to her home country of Wallachia and learns and trains in military strategy, having to prove herself at every step. Radu embraces his time in the Empire, converts to Islam and tries to use the political intrigues of the court to Mehmed’s advantage. Radu, who in historical records is part of the sultan’s male harem, also deals with navigating his attraction to other men.
White said that while she was making changes to history in her novel, she wanted to be sensitive to the legacies of faith and heritage.
“I felt a responsibility to represent as much as I could as accurately as possible,” she said of portraying the historical figures in the book.
Her previous books don’t bring up religion or religious themes, but “And I Darken” explores aspects of Islam, mostly through Radu’s experiences.
“I wanted to show a genuine conversion and how much that faith was a nourishing and healing and strengthening thing for Radu,” White said. “It is a beautiful religion with such an incredible history and tradition.”
Fantasy vs. historical fiction
White’s previous books, including her Paranormalcy series; “Mind Games” and its sequel, “Pivot Point”; “The Chaos of Stars”; and “Illusions of Fate,” have been fantasy books. “And I Darken” has a different publisher and is a work of historical fiction.
“History is by far harder to write” than fantasy, White said, adding that the drafting process took longer for this book than for any other she’s written. “Fantasy is easy; you make it up.”
Historical details need to be accurate to help make the story authentic and give context, she said. At one point, she had a character opening a window, but then she wondered if they had windows that opened, and she began to research to see how that worked, she said.
White said she loves plot, characters and dialogue and had to remind herself to add in descriptions of settings, clothes and food, among other elements.
“You want to give your readers all of the tools they need to feel like they are experiencing it,” she said.
“And I Darken” contains several general descriptions of violence, fighting, torture and military campaigns, as well as mentions of harems and same-sex attraction, though there aren’t any descriptions beyond kissing. There is no swearing.
In addition to the next two books in the Darken trilogy, White is working on a collection of fractured fairy tales aimed at middle grade readers that is scheduled to be released next spring through Scholastic. She has two book signings in July and is scheduled to appear at Salt Lake Comic Con in September.
If you go …
What: Kiersten White book signing with Jessica Spotswood and Brodi Ashton
When: Friday, July 15, 7 p.m.
Where: Provo City Library, 550 N. University Ave., Provo
What: Kiersten White book signing
When: Saturday, July 16, 7 p.m.
Where: The King's English Bookshop, 1511 S. 1500 East, Salt Lake City
Note: The signing line is reserved for those who buy a copy of the featured book from The King's English.
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