Friday, March 1, 2013

The Sweetest Dark by Shana Abe

The Sweetest DarkThe Sweetest Dark by Shana Abé

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Rating: 4.5

"I'm going to kiss you, Eleanore," he said quietly, still looking at her. "Not now. Later." His eyes cut back to mine. "I thought it fair tell you first."
I stilled. "If you think you can do so without me biting your lip, feel free to try."
His gaze shown wicked blue. "I don't mind if you bite."
"Biting your lip off, I should have said."
"Ah. Let's see how it goes, shall we?"

The title of this sure fire winner, did nothing to prepare me for the rather original story that resides between its pretty cover.

The plot is set in Victorian England at the onset of WWI. Lora Jones is found in the streets of London at around age 10, without language or clothing, Lara is raised in an orphanage. When Lara confesses to hearing music, voices, and other oddities, she is sent to a mental institution.

Lara is nothing if not bright, and learns to hide and lie her way to a clean bill of mental health. "Cured", she is sent to an elite all girls boarding school on England's southern coast.

It is there that she meets the mute grounds keeper, Jesse, and the Duke of Idylling's son, Armand.

Ah, but this is not your typical love triangle, but we'll get to that in a minute.

What sets The Sweetest Dark a part from other YA novels is the treatment of the characters.

Lara is not obsessed by her looks, or her lack on money. Instead, Lara is much more concerned with simple things that she can do something about, like eating enough at each meal. After being hungry for so long, Lara is simply happy to exist in a semi-safe environment.

This is not the first YA book to be set in a boarding school, but it is the first that I've read that handles the bull-shit that the other girls dish in a very adult manner. Most YA novels feature a tough main protagonist who is ready to kick ass, even at her own detriment. This is not the case in The Sweetest Dark. Lara does nothing without fully weighing the options. The results are refreshing and satisfying.

We'd entered that numbed, dragging stretch of hours before Sunday tea and after church, when Iverson's genteel young ladies tended to wander off in their individual clusters to genteelly shred the characters of anyone beyond their circle.

There's so much drama going on with our three main characters not being exactly human that we just don't need more problems in the form of secondary school girls. Yes, the dynamic is there, but Abe doesn't fixate, and for that, I thank her.

The attention of Jesse and Armand are equally adult. Lara is Jesse's beloved, and that is obvious from the beginning. There are no games, there's no, "what ifs or whys". Their love just is.

Armand plays his own role. Confused by his obsession over Lara, who he calls "the waif" he attempts to puzzle her out. She's not very forth coming, and their interaction, much like her interactions with the other school girls is satisfying. Lara is quick witted and matches Armand's self-loathing turn for turn.

As I've mentioned, the three are not exactly human, but again, Abe's treatment of the three is realistic. There's nothing in The Sweetest Dark that comes easily for the three, which makes the magic that much more believable. I don't wish to give away what they are, but suffice it to say, Abe again delivers on originality.

A great big Thank You to Shana Abe for her contribution to awesome female characters that do smart things! Oh, and thanks for a book that doesn't contain fey, vampires, or werewolves. You Rock!

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Quotes taken from unpublished proof. ARC provided by Netgalley in association with Bantam Books

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