Wednesday, 24 April 2013

The Sweetest Dark (The Sweetest Dark #1) by Shana Abe

“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. (Goodreads)


"Like all the orphans crowding the Home, I felt certain that I did not belong where I was. That someone, somewhere, was surely searching for me, because I was special. Unline all the rest of the orphans, I was right."

We all want to be special, or to have something that sets us apart from the crowd, isn't that true? Ever since I read Harry Potter novels and Matilda I was constantly waving a twig in my hand at random objects, secretly wishing that they would move, or explode, or disappear. Unfortunately they never did anything other than remain right where they were and mock me. Lora, the main character, is "luckier" than I was, because she is indeed special. At first glance she is a tough cookie with a rough childhod, who knows how to defend herself and stand up to others who try to make her life miserable because she's an orphan and not some snotty little rich pampered girl like the girls at this school. I liked reading about her - she had so many layers and hid so many wonderful things beneath the surface. 

The writing style was beautiful, dark and intriguing, mysterious and rich with descriptions. I was transfixed by the world the author took me in, desperately wanting to figure out what was happening to Lora and trying to guess what kind of a creature she was. When I finally found out I was blown away. I'll not spoil anything because I think it is great that I learned that from the book and not from someone else - the effect is so much more powerful.

We don't really connect with the characters, we are merely the audience - the fortunate ones who get an insight into a world of wonder. It felt like I was outside, looking through a window of a house in awe, fully knowing I will never be invited in, that I would only be allowed to peek in from the shadows. And I actually didn't mind that. It was also that kind of a book where there wasn't much of a plot but more of a heroine's internal thoughts, struggles, the Becoming and coming to terms with what she is. 

The love triangle wasn't really a love triangle since Lora was instantly drawn to beautiful Jesse who has a few secrets up his sleeves, too. Armand, the aristocrat, on the other hand is inexplicably drawn to Lora, and later on we find out why - partly because he is what she is. But even though he was obnoxious at times I liked him better than Jesse, despite introducing himself to Lora: "Call me Mandy", after being described as rich, handsome and alpha male. And there the author goes and ruins my fantasy by nicknaming him "Mandy". Sheesh. But why I didn't like Jesse? I don't know how to explain it, he just wasn't interesting. He sounded old and boring. And I'm not a big fan of "star-crossed lovers". Too ... romanticky for me.

The ending was surprising, although a bit forced for me. No action for three quarters of the book and then "BAM"! World war 1 in the school's backyard. Literally! And I've said it before and I'll say it again: I can always appreciate a good death and although unexpected, it was a great twist to the story. However, I have a strange feeling that this person will be returning. It's all written in the stars, I guess...

All in all, a very unique story with many interesting elements, if a bit slow-paced in some parts. I expected more pulse-quickening scenes and a better Jesse. But overall it was a pleasant read and I'm looking forward to the next instalment.

An e-copy of this book was kindly provided to me by NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group. All opinions in this review are my own.

3.5 quills

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