If the spirit of Charlotte Brontë were to write a World War I novel about the English House System featuring a heroine who goes through puberty recognizing she’s “different” and that sort of different involves a world of dragons and sorcerers… you might end up with something like Shana Abé’s The Sweetest Dark.
It’s been a LONG time since I read Jane Eyre but it’s hard to forget Jane wandering the moors and that sort of atmosphere is all over this novel.
At least Jane didn’t hear voices.
Lora Jones is sixteen years old and she’s got this odd Pocahontas “Colors of the Wind” thing going on where she can hear the music of stones and other objects in Nature and this nudging voice that urges her to do things — like jump out of windows, for example.
Of course, Pocahontas jumps off a waterfall so maybe they’re more alike than I thought.
Lora’s under this illusion that this private, all-female boarding school is going to fix all of her problems and give her a fresh start — because when have you ever read a story where everything’s automatically “fixed” when you start over as the new kid at a boarding school. (Just saying.) Her life quickly becomes intwined with two very different boys, a student and a groundskeeper, and her relationships (and rule-breaking) with them comprise most of the rest of the novel.
I know this is a weekend and some of you may not be interested in a long post so I’ll skip the in-depth review and just cover the highlights.
The cover adequately covers a pivotal moment in the book but you’d have no idea what the book was about from the cover alone. Personally, I think the artist is trying to pull some kind of Leda and the Swan seductiveness that is totally inappropriate for the novel.
Kudos for trying to do something different – dragons in WWI. The alchemy thing is cool too. Even though the story’s set up for a sequel, I didn’t care for the ending (and that’s the whole point, isn’t it?).
That said, the book itself has gorgeous atmosphere and there are rare moments of perfect beauty that make it worth the read at least once.
Usually in a young adult (YA) series, if there is a love triangle, the author will spin it out for as many books as possible until the final book when it’s resolved. The love triangle becomes part of the ‘series arc’ of the story where each individual novel has its own story arc. So, it’s certainly a bit unexpected that Lora would be paired off in the first book.
I think the critics would argue that she’s not exactly been “paired”, given the circumstances, but we are left with little doubt at the end of The Sweetest Dark that there are no other romantic interests in the picture. You could end the book there, no sequel, and it would be tragic and beautiful.
Abé has written a sequel, The Deepest Night, which will be published (August 2013) by Bantam.