Monday, April 29, 2013

The Sweetest Dark by Shana Abe

The Sweetest Dark by Shana Abe
ARC received from Bantam Dell via Edelweiss
On Shelves Now
Reviewed by:  Middle Sis Jenn
The Sisters Say:  Compelling and full of intrigue, The Sweetest Dark will open your eyes to a new world of fantasy creatures.
For fans of Lauren Kate and Libba Bray, The Sweetest Dark is filled with thrilling romance, exciting adventure, and ancient magic. Shana Abé brilliantly captures the drama of post-Victorian England, while unfolding a passionate love story that defies time.

“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 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.