Series: Sweetest Dark #1
Published by Bantam on April 2, 2013
Genres: Historical Fantasy, YA (Young Adult)
Source: the publisher
Also in this series: The Deepest Night
Also by this author: The Deepest Night
For fans of Lauren Kate and Libba Bray, The Sweetest Dark is filled with thrilling romance, exciting adventure, and ancient magic. Shana Abé brilliantly captures the drama of post-Victorian England, while unfolding a passionate love story that defies time.
“With every fiber of my being, I yearned to be normal. To glide through my days at Iverson without incident. But I’d have to face the fact that my life was about to unfold in a very, very different way than I’d ever envisioned. Normal would become forever out of reach.”
Lora Jones has always known that she’s different. On the outside, she appears to be an ordinary sixteen-year-old girl. Yet Lora’s been keeping a heartful of secrets: She hears songs that no one else can hear, dreams vividly of smoke and flight, and lives with a mysterious voice inside her that insists she’s far more than what she seems.
England, 1915. Raised in an orphanage in a rough corner of London, Lora quickly learns to hide her unique abilities and avoid attention. Then, much to her surprise, she is selected as the new charity student at Iverson, an elite boarding school on England’s southern coast. Iverson’s eerie, gothic castle is like nothing Lora has ever seen. And the two boys she meets there will open her eyes and forever change her destiny.
Jesse is the school’s groundskeeper—a beautiful boy who recognizes Lora for who and what she truly is. Armand is a darkly handsome and arrogant aristocrat who harbors a few closely guarded secrets of his own. Both hold the answers to her past. One is the key to her future. And both will aim to win her heart. As danger descends upon Iverson, Lora must harness the powers she’s only just begun to understand, or else lose everything she dearly loves.
Filled with lush atmosphere, thrilling romance, and ancient magic, The Sweetest Dark brilliantly captures a rich historical era while unfolding an enchanting love story that defies time.
I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.
The Sweetest Dark is beautiful, seductive, heartbreaking. With its blend of historical fiction and fantasy heightened by Abé’s often lyrical writing, the book captured me at the Prologue and never let go. The characters drew me in, too: Eleanore (Lora), Jesse, and Armand are each compelling characters in their own ways, particularly Lora. The relationship between the three is complex—never a typical love triangle, though there are moments when it veers in that direction. Instead, it’s a complicated blend of wariness, suspicion, friendship, love, and comradeship.
The story shifts point of view from first person (Lora) to third person limited (Jesse and Armand), with most of the story being told by Lora. It’s an interesting authorial choice, yet I felt it worked to both connect us to Lora and simultaneously reveal and obscure Jesse’s and Armand’s actions, thoughts, and motivations. By the end of the book, I was invested in all three characters, though it took me a while to warm up to Armand.
There’s an almost dreamlike quality to the book, the familiar and the wondrous intertwining and transmuting one another. I love the way Abé blends fantasy and historical fiction elements almost seamlessly. There is more than one nod to gothic novel and historical romance conventions—the poor orphan girl, duke’s son, and gardener’s boy; the posh school in an old castle; the duchess’s mysterious death many years earlier—yet Abé puts her own stamp on them; somehow they don’t come across as clichés. And she has given an original twist to the fantasy elements as well. I’ve never seen shape-changing handled in quite this way, and Jesse’s nature is unusual, even for a fantasy novel.
There’s so much more I want to say about this book and these characters, but I can’t without giving too much away. I will only say that the ending almost broke my heart despite the fact that I saw at least part of it coming. There’s no cliffhanger; Abé resolves the internal story arc while still leaving plenty of unanswered questions for the rest of the series. I can’t wait to read book 2, The Deepest Night, due out in August.