Review: The Sweetest Dark by Shana Abe

February 18, 2013 4 - 4.5 Stars, Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Paranormal, Shana Abe, WWI Fiction 2 ★★★★

The Sweetest Dark by Shana Abe
Series: The Sweetest Dark # 1
Published by Bantam on April 2, 2013
Genres: Historical FIction, Paranormal
Pages: 352
Format: eARC
Source: Publisher
Goodreads
four-stars
“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.

This is a somewhat difficult review to write, because while there are hints throughout to the existence of various supernatural elements, they are not revealed in full until about halfway through the story, and they play a major part in the plot. The Goodreads synopsis does not specify them, so I won’t either. (The prologue does actually specify the what, but not the who.)

The setting is World War 1-era England. This makes me think of Downton Abbey, and anything that makes me think of Downton Abbey makes me happy (with the exception of that ridiculous season two.) Eleanore (Lora) Jones, the heroine, could best be described as scrappy. She was a strange little girl; a ten-year-old orphan, speechless and with no memory of her earlier life. She was taken into an orphanage where her oddness caused her to be ostracized and abused, under the guise of treatment. She heard sounds and music that no one else heard. A strange, menacing voice spoke only to her. She protected herself by closing herself to others, and by sixteen, she learned to fake the persona of a “normal” girl sufficiently to trick the doctor at the orphanage who previously diagnosed her with “adolescent feminine hysteria.”

When the orphanage was bombed by the Germans, the children were sent to other orphanages, but Lora was selected as a “charity student” to attend a prestigious boarding school. She encounters prissy, privileged, bullying girls, but her struggles left her very well-prepared to deal with them.

There’s a love triangle, of course. Two boys vie for Lora’s attention: the poor, sweet boy to whom Lora takes an instant liking, and the rich boy initially viewed by Lora as an adversary. Like Lora, both boys are not exactly what they seem. I was pleased that the author managed to make both boys viable romantic options, a frequent stumbling block for other writers.

The writing in The Sweetest Dark is quite lovely and a nice match for the time period and the mysteries of the story. When the supernatural elements were fully revealed, I was taken by surprise and somewhat confused. However, I’m a first-time reader of Shana Abe, and from reading other reviews, people familiar with her works did not have the same reaction.

The ending was a combination of sweetness and heartbreak, although the epilogue provides some hope and sets the stage nicely for a sequel.

A note about the title: I thought it was more appropriate for a tawdry romance novel, but then I read this quote from the book: “Those nights, in the sweetest dark, we shared our dreams. That’s your answer. I was stitched into yours, and you were stitched into mine, and that was real, I promise you.” Sigh. I get it now.

Note – I obtained this book through NetGalley.

Questions for Readers:

1) Did you feel that both Jesse and Armand were viable romantic options for Lora?
2) Were you surprised by the nature of the supernatural elements affecting the characters?

Please reply without spoilers, or prominently note “SPOILER” at the beginning of your comment.  I’d love to hear your thoughts on these topics or any others!

Review posted at Goodreads and Amazon.

Stephanie

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