The Sweetest Dark
“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.
The first thing that comes to my mind when describing The Sweetest Dark would be – beautifully written. I adored the writing style – it was full of rich, vivid and engaging descriptions. I normally skim over the descriptions (I find them superfluous most times), for I am usually more invested in the story, but Shana Abe had me reading each and every word, just to savor this book completely. The writing itself was magical and the plot development, well-planned and executed.
Eleanore is not the typical historical heroine – she is full of sass and not afraid to use it. She is clever, witty, sometimes a bit morbid and feral but her heart is in the right place. You would except a girl of her time to be naive, bambi-eyed and awed by the people she is surrounded with – but she is not, though at times seeming a bit bitter with her fate. Her relationship with Jesse is a bit intense, considering they are so in love with each other within a few meeting, but it doesn’t come across as cheesy. Her flirtations with Armand, well, they had me grinning during their scenes – that is, if you consider trading insults as flirting (oh, the tea party was hilarious). Jesse is such a great guy – so wise beyond his years and so humble, you can’t help but love him and Armand with his kicked-puppy like attitude also endears you to him.
The ending really affected me, even with the foreshadowing throughout the book. I love how it is set in a wartime – it just adds to the dark theme of the book. And with the epilogue, the next book is sure on my to-read. Just awesome, all I can say – 4.5 stars.
First of all, everyone should know that Shana Abé’s prose is awesome. It’s so pretty and evocative and descriptive—very atmospheric and it set the tone wonderfully. It did, however, verge into purple prose territory, which might not be to some readers’ tastes. I didn’t think it was too overboard, however, but that’s just me.
Also, The Sweetest Dark is about dragons! “But Renae!” you say. “Don’t you hate dragon books?” Er…theoretically yes, but I’ve never read a dragon book I actually disliked, so you know. And the dragon (or drákon) in this book isn’t a typical dragon but is really more of a shapeshifter type deal. But whatever we call it, that whole aspect was well-done and, I thought, unique.
As far as plot goes, this book is fairly typical. Poor girl arrives at swanky boarding school, mean girls are mean, two gorgeous guys flock to her side—surprise, she has paranormal abilities, etc. In the book’s blurb, it’s advertised that this is a good read for fans of Libba Bray, and I agree. In fact, there was one specific scene in The Sweetest Dark that was almost exactly the same as one from A Great and Terrible Beauty. Make of that what you will.
In terms of the love triangle…it’s not really a love triangle. Lora, the main character, has a bad case of instalove with godlike Jesse, and while she has a bond with the equally godlike Lord Armand, their relationship is never more than platonic. However, due to the conclusion of The Sweetest Dark, I’d probably categorize this as a love triangle overall, though it really isn’t.
Which then brings me to the novel’s conclusion, which was disappointing in so many ways. The first disappointment had to do with the pseudo love triangle, since I can only call Abé’s treatment of it a cop-out. The second disappointment had to do with the completely unrealistic events that happened—German U-boats and zeppelins and shooting and such. It was like a fairytale take on WWI that I found improbable at best and ludicrous at worst. I certainly finished The Sweetest Dark on a low note that heavily contrasted with the high note I began on.
In the end, I think the good points I found in The Sweetest Dark outweigh the bad. The book isn’t perfect, but I enjoyed myself quite a bit, and will definitely look forward to the sequel. I think Abé is a wonderful writer, and though I’m not a fan of her romance, I approved of nearly everything else. (Bonus: she’s written a whole other series about the drákon, so I’ll have to check those out pronto!)
Set in 1915, The Sweetest Dark follows 17 year old Lora, an orphan from the London slums sent to a boarding school for young ladies of the elite, of which Lora is not. However Lora is not your average girl spoiler if you haven't read other Shana Abe books (view spoiler) Something she is unaware of.
The writing had a slightly dreamy and poetic quality. Which could make it difficult for some people to get in to the story but I found quite lovely.
Lora was an alright protagonist but I felt like I could have really liked her instead of just being okay with her. The problem was we didn't get to see her personality come through like it could have. Which is sad because I think she would have been the kind of girl whose mind I would love to be in. For example she loved to read but this was only mentioned 2-3 times. I would have really liked to see her personality come through a bit more.
The love interest(s)
I fell head over heels for Jesse! He was sweet and caring and oh so perfect! It should be known that the ending with Jesse is not a happy one. In fact it's heart breaking. My heart was ripped from my chest, torn into tiny pieces, and then ground into the floor. I was crying SO HARD! I would hate it because I dislike depressing endings that make me cry but the Epilogue made it bearable even if my heart will forever have scars from being shattered. So I will accept that maybe this is the way fate intended for things to be for Lora and Jesse. I will even admit (begrudgingly) that a happy ending would not have been as good even if I desperately wish they had one.
Armand is the bad boy/snooty rich boy of the love triangle. Although I didn't feel it was that much of a love triangle because Jesse's and Lora's relationship was the focus and not Armand's and Lora's. Despite that the scenes with Armand were electric. Lora has a fiery chemistry with Armand that is somewhat lacking with Jesse. The feelings between Jesse and Lora is a bit more like friends that became more. Not that they don't have sparks, it's just less obvious, like Armand and Lora are a monsoon and Jesse and Lora are a light rain. Your more likely to get a light rain but when a monsoon hits you notice.
In this case the villain could be the Germans as this is set in England during World War I and the war plays a big part in the ending. However until then I didn't feel that the war was a big part of the plot line, so I am going to talk about Chloe. I hate Chloe! HATE HER! She was a mean, spoiled brat and I really wish she had gotten what was coming to her. Sure Lora gave her a talking too but Chloe was going to get her expelled! I wish there could have been a scene where a bird poops on her or something! Hopefully in the sequel!
The writing is great. It is so vivid and descriptive... You can picture the setting perfectly from all the details, which I thought was great considering The Sweetest Dark takes place in a distant time. The author also chose to tell this story in alternating points of view, which is always a challenge. Three chararacters-- Jesse, Armand, and Lora-- tell their individual stories until they ultimately entwine into a heartbreaking final scene.
If you don't like love triangles, you may not be for you. While the triangle is not obvious, it's there and building. I am not sure how it will play out in the upcoming books because these characters are so unique, but I am curious. I'm having to stop myself from reading book 2 right now until I finish some others! So hard...
That's all I can tell you about this one without giving it away. It's so unique that discussing the plot or characters in detail would give away too much. Just know that it was wonderful! I have this feeling that this will become a new favorite series for me. I would have given this a solid 5, but there were a few questions I had while reading that were never answered.
Once again, I'm struck by how lyrical a book can be written. The words flow effortlessly and seductively towards a truly awesome ending. (And sad!)
I was totally surprised to find that this was about dragons! That's definitely a first time subject for me. And I really don't mind. Abe does a tremendous job of creating these beasts into beautiful creatures that demand presence in the sky.
The alternating POV's were also great. The time period was interesting to read about. Lora is a great character, and she stands strong next to Jesse and Armand. (Jesse and Armand. Yeah. Sexy names for sexy guys.)
The Sweetest Dark is a fantastical story about dragons and a luscious romance full of magic. I cannot wait to fall into the next book in the series.
Lora is a young girl that has been bounced from orphanage to orphanage, then people believing that she was just crazy. After being given a chance to go to a elite boarding school, she has a little bit of hope. Her hopes were dashed, when she is being called horrible names and treated the same, because the girl see her as nothing but a charity case. Lora is an amazing character, with strength and determination that was enjoyable to follow. She meets two boys, Armand and Jesse, who are are two very different boys from very different backgrounds.
The romance in this was sweet and breathtaking. Yes, there is two boys, and at first I was afraid that there would a love triangle between them and I couldn’t have been more happy that it was anything but. As the story unfolds, it becomes abundantly clear who Lora’s heart belongs to. The love was something everyone should have in their lives. I won’t tell who the true love it, but both of these boys play a part of her past and her future.
The setting was described with great and beautiful detail and the world building that complex and engrossing even though era was during World War I. There was a few times at the beginning that I was a little confused, and where this was going. Once what Lora was was revealed, (of which I will not spoil for you), all the dreams, music and voices that she had been experiencing her entire life began to make sense and how these two amazing boys played in to it all. It was at this point that I became so invested in this that is was hard to put this down. The ending left me sobbing, not wanting the story not to end. But this isn’t really the end, and I will be most definitely waiting for the sequel.
The Sweetest Dark had a uniqueness to it that I found to be one best things about it. It had a sweet romance and wonderful characters. Shana Abé has written and utterly enchanting and magical tale. One that will stick with you and I couldn’t possibly give this enough credit. All I can tell you is that this is a must read.
ARC received from Bantam Dell via Edelweiss
Release Date: 2013
The Sisters Say: Compelling and full of intrigue, The Sweetest Dark will open your eyes to a new world of fantasy creatures.
The Sweetest Dark is rich in imagery and fantasy, and Shana Abe succeeds brilliantly in turning creatures of nightmare into something beautiful and seductive.
The story follows Lora, an orphan with no memory of her past, as she finds herself being given an exclusive scholarship to boarding school for the rich. Lora is different from the other girls in so many ways—she is poor, she is an orphan, and she hears music and voices inside her head. When she arrives at the boarding school, she immediately gains the attention of two very opposite guys—Jesse, the groundskeeper, and Armand, the wealthy aristocrat; but their attentions are not entirely truthful. They each hold the key to a part of her past, but who holds the key to her future?
Although I found this story slow at times, I will say that Shana Abe has a way with words. There are times when the words seem to float off the page the perfect picture—complete with background music! I saw her world develop around me, and I desperately wanted to be a part of it. However, there were times when her words got in the way of the story. I love imagery, but there is a point where there is too much description, and at several times throughout the novel, I found myself skipping over whole paragraphs.
You can tell that this is a set-up novel because there was very little plot development until the last 20% of the book, and at that point, it spend up incredibly when I wanted it to slow down. Shana has created a fantastical world with creatures straight from mythology—creatures that you don’t see in many other books. I loved that her world was new and interesting, but I wanted there to be more action that could guide us into the next books. I felt like the story ended too abruptly, and instead of that satisfied I-can’t-wait-for-the-next-book feeling, I was left with a that’s-it feeling. Don’t get me wrong—I am definitely in for the next installment, but I wish I could see a direction for the story to take.
From reading the blurb, I thought this book was going to be full to the brim with romance—I love books that have steamy romance! However, for all the nakedness in the book (yes, I said nakedness), there is surprisingly little descriptive romance. You a kiss here and a kiss there, or an embrace here and embrace there, but there was very little detail describing those interactions. I wanted scenes where I was jealous of Lora—where I wished I could pluck her out of the book and put myself in her place, but those scenes never showed up; and there were tons of opportunities where these scenes could have been added or developed. I hope in the next installment we see more romance and passion.
Now just because there wasn’t as much romance as I would have liked, doesn’t mean the guys did not take my breath away. I loved the guys! Jesse is the groundskeeper who immediately recognizes Lora for who she really is, and I must say, his directness about his feelings and intentions was pretty steamy! (If only we could have seen more). And then there’s Armand—I’ll admit, I’m Team Armand—he’s broody, dark, arrogant, and definitely has a way with the cut-downs. One many occasions Armand had me smiling and yelling, “Kiss him, Lora!” I won’t tell you how the love triangle turns out, but I will say I didn’t see it coming.
So…my final conclusions:
This is a debut young adult novel, and it does have its flaws. Sadly, I do think the lack of romance and action will make some not want to read the next novel, but I will remain optimistic that we will see more desire in the next. It is an intriguing world, and if you’re looking for a new type of fantasy creature (no angels, demons, werewolves, or vampires here!), then you should give this book a try.