by Shana Abe
Series: Sweetest Dark #1
Published on April 2, 2013 by Bantam
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
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.
To describe The Sweetest Dark, I would start with “unique.” Shana Abe’s world of “starmen” and Drakons is not something I’ve encountered in YA, especially with the backdrop of Europe during World War I. Abe’s main trio of characters brought life and an untold story to the war era, despite their homes being far from the main fight. In this novel, you get a taste of struggle and fear of the lower class while entertaining the idea of nobility in the prestigious Iverson, a school for young women. The story, while somewhat confusing at first, was entertaining and made The Sweetest Dark a quick read.
Our heroine, Eleanore “Lora” Jones is an orphan. When she’s first introduced, it is as a child, without the voice that tells the rest of the story. To be honest, I wasn’t really a fan of those first few chapters. While they were necessary to provide her background, I struggled through them, finding what followed next much smoother and easier to lose myself in. As for Eleanore herself, I liked her character; her resilience and wit made her the strong woman she needed to be when the time came. But when it came to her romance with Jesse, I wasn’t a fan. She reminded me of a lovestruck preteen glimpsing their first taste of something new. While I understand her life was taking drastic turns toward the paranormal and fantastical, I felt like her voice changed when Jesse was involved.
Jesse was…alright. I liked him at first but felt like his effect on Eleanore went over the top at the beginning before settling. Between him and the sharp-tongued Armand, I’d pick the latter. Where Jesse knew what to do (for the most part, or at least he had something to consult with), Armand was the unfavored son of a duke, lonely and unsure about himself and what he was. He felt realer than Jesse did, for me, and I would’ve been interested to see how he and Eleanore would have handled things if they didn’t have the all-knowing Jesse around. It was one of those love triangles (with a twist that you’ll just have to read about to find out) where I picked my favorite well before anything serious happened.
The story itself was easy to follow, interesting in both the concept and chosen setting while drawing on familiar traits of the magical beings involved. I really liked Abe’s concept of Drakons and their connection to the world, in the past and presence. It added that extra element to the story as it was already set in an existing location. Once I read past those first few chapters and reached the main part of the story, following Eleanore’s departure from London, I found the pages flying by. I would’ve finished it in one sitting if not for falling asleep of exhaustion. At the end of it all, I really enjoyed the ending (partially because of my taste in characters) and was eager to read the sequel (because surely there had to be one, which Goodreads confirmed).
The Sweetest Dark is perfect for fans of historical fiction, fantasy, and romance all wrapped in one. I believe it’s suitable for all ages and think young female readers would especially enjoy it, finding Eleanore an easy-to-relate-to character. This novel is great for a dreary day, something to curl up with a blanket and read in one go.