Book: The Sweetest Dark
Author: Shana Abe
Source: Review copy from publisher via Netgalley.com
Eleanore “Lora” Jones is less than nothing. An orphan found wandering the streets of London during the first decade of the 20th century, she was raised in an orphanage and--briefly--in a madhouse. She hears songs nobody can hear, she has rebellious thoughts she shouldn't. Now, with the onset of WWI, she’s being farmed out to the country. She’s lucked out and landed a place in an elite boarding school in Wessex. As a charity student, she’s still the lowest of the low, but she’s doing better than she has in a long time.
Then she meets two extraordinary boys. Spoiled Armand is the second son of the duke who is the patron of the school. Jesse is the nephew of the school’s groundskeeper. He’s mute, but he’ll talk to her. And what he tells her changes Lora’s view of the world and herself forever.
I have a confession to make. In my teen years, I didn’t read YA. Instead I read--no, gulped--no, devoured romance novels. That changed over the time, obviously, but I still fondly remember a few authors. One of them is Shana Abe, not for her characters or the particular tightness of her plot, but for her lush and romantic style. That’s why I glommed onto The Sweetest Dark and its sequel, The Deepest Night.
Was it all that I hoped? Yes and no.
The yes: I liked the worldbuilding, even though it felt like there was a lot I wasn't seeing (which is true; these books are in some fashion attached to an adult series that she writes). I also liked Lora's physical and mental power.
Watching Lora come into her own and understand her strange abilities as facets of herself rather than symptoms of madness was my favorite part of this novel. This girl has teeth! When a privileged schoolfellow pulls the old trick of framing her for theft, she not only realizes what’s going on, but neatly upends the situation, saving her own skin and smacking the mean girl down in the process.
The no: I was dissatisfied by the love story, and being that I first got to know Abe's writing in the romance genre, that's a big disappointment. It’s not quite a love triangle, though it leans that way. Armand is intrigued by her and she couldn’t care less about him romantically, so she’s not really torn. However, Jesse the Perfect Destined Beloved bored me, especially since he was amazingly cagey about what he would tell Lora until the very end.
Note: I held off posting this because I wanted to see how I felt about the second book in the series, The Deepest Night, which came out this week. And how did I feel? Errrrm. She does become closer to Armand, which I liked because he was far more interesting to me than Jesse. She comes into her powers more, and there’s a great adventure with them tearing across Europe to rescue Armand’s older brother, who is a German POW.
But there seemed to be more Mysterious for the Sake of Mystery stuff, and that just annoyed me. There also seemed to be a tendency toward Everybody Loves Lora, which just made me roll my eyes. Will I read the last one? I think so, but I’m not slavering for it.