Superman is back in the pop culture lexicon (did he ever leave, though?), so I think I can safely say that something is ‘my kryptonite’ and everyone will know that it kills me. Right?! Well, here goes nothing: LOVE TRIANGLES ARE MY KRYPTONITE. I’m seriously allergic to them. It used to be that I could tolerate this now-dreaded young adult romance cliché, but too many bad experiences have scarred me. Or maybe I’ve just lost patience like the old grouch that I am (on the inside). The sad truth is that there are *very* few exceptions to this rule, and Shana Abé’s The Sweetest Dark was not one of them.
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.
Lora has grown up in horrible circumstances – she was found mute and with no memory of her past on the street at age ten, and from thence deposited in an orphanage. She heard music that no one else did, and was sent away for a stint in a mental institution. She’s become very good at appearing normal ever since, but so far she hasn’t turned hard. That doesn’t mean she isn’t damaged in other ways, though. When the Great War starts and London is bombed, Lora gets her one golden opportunity – she’s sent to the coast to an exclusive school for girls far above her station. It is there that she will find mysteries beyond the ordinary, and two very different young men.
I picked up The Sweetest Dark on Liviania’s recommendation – we’re practically reading twins, and so I usually try what she thinks is good (and vice versa). She loved this book, so I read it. Easy peasy. There were certainly things I liked about the book. Abé started off with quite a hook – a girl who hears things, and doesn’t know why, and a (separate) mysterious old story told in anonymous letters. I was invested immediately, and intrigued by the gothic feel of the narrative – it reminded me a bit of Jane Eyre, actually.
As I’ve already said, the sticking point for me was the love triangle, which was introduced when Lora arrived at Iverson, the school-in-a-castle. Part of the trouble was that I felt that one character was completely extraneous to the story. The tension that the author wanted to create with him could have been contrived in other ways without the instant fascination/eyes-that-follow-Lora-everywhere-creep-factor. Perhaps the easiest way to explain my unease with the love triangle is to say that it read like a FORMULA. One that I’ve seen too many times. And I thought the writing and descriptive passages were very well-done, and the story didn’t need that formulaic plot element. So I felt cheated. The headline would read, “Lovely WWI historical fantasy ruined by love triangle!”
But let’s go back to things I liked. The world-building was standard-to-good, the inclusion of early methods of dealing with mental illness poignant (and horrifying) by turns, and Lora’s exploration of an old and mysterious house was quite satisfying. The feeling of impending doom mixed with a unique paranormal element was pitch perfect. And I did like the ending, bittersweet as it was. Basically, if you take away the love triangle, I’d call this a super read. So hopefully you like love triangles. *grin*
Recommended for: fans of young adult historical fiction and fantasy, anyone with a thing for dragons, and those who liked Juliet Marillier’s Wildwood books or Libba Bray’s Gemma Doyle series.