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My Rating: 2.0 out of 5 stars
“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.
I really wished that I enjoyed The Sweetest Dark by Shana Abé. The premise was intriguing and from the blurb, it seemed like a decent, quick YA read. With an alluring blend of historical fiction, fantasy and romance, it's rare that such combination can do any wrong. Unfortunately this was not the case here. Instead, I was left feeling underwhelmed and indifferent at the end, wondering why it was a good idea to drudge through this book. It's even more difficult to write a review about a book that you have no strong feelings for so there is nothing really going for me at the moment.
One of the things that I liked about this book was its beautiful setting. The descriptions of early 20th century London were lush and vivid which painted lovely images in my head. With a WWI backdrop, Abé was successful in creating an authentic historical feel to the story despite its fantasy filled plot. Furthermore I liked the eerie and foreboding atmosphere that was not only present on the streets of London, but also within the boarding school Iverson. I'm a huge sucker for gothic settings so Abé easily won me over with the expansive school grounds, quaint cottages in the middle of the woods, old chapels, aristocratic manors and secret passages in the school castle. The setting can be loosely compared to Harry Potter however that is the only remotely common link between them. I have not read Abe’s previous adult series that is set in the same world however I could recognise the subtle details and intricacies in the world-building that may be more apparent if you are familiar with her other books.
Abé’s prose is also very beautiful and poetic. It is clear that she is skilled writer as she does have a lovely way with words that makes every sentence such a pleasure to read. Unfortunately I felt that this book was all style but no substance. Despite its intriguing setting and atmosphere, it had a number of major flaws that significantly impacted upon my reading experience. The book started off on a strong foot with an intriguing and ominous prologue that immediately drew me in. Yet even an appealing premise and writing style could not hide the dull plot and characters. I felt utterly bored throughout reading this book and it was a struggle to finish it. There were too many YA tropes for my liking (those who dislike love triangles and insta-love between characters would do well to avoid this book) and the events were too predictable. I was never a fan of alternating POVs as they often detract the mystery and suspense from the story when poorly done. This was certainly the case with this book as the thoughts of the main characters were simply not engaging enough to make me want to be in their shoes.
I could not connect to any of the characters. Lora’s voice and personality did nothing for me and I was even less impressed with Jesse and Armand (the latter’s nickname is “Mandy” which personally sounds ridiculous in my head, especially when it replaced his proper name on most part during his POV). Also, does every YA novel that is set in a boarding school NEED to have so much drama, bickering, jealousy, gossip and backstabbing between girls who have to act so bitchy? (I’m looking at you Shadow and Bone). Although I understand the school is catered for the extremely rich and wealthy however I wished that it was been written in a less clichéd manner that doesn’t make me want to excessively roll my eyes. The plot was uninteresting and the pacing leaves a lot to be desired as you can skip about 50 pages and still not miss anything substantial. Despite the decent writing and world-building, the tension and conflict of the novel failed to engage me in any way. I did not feel that there was enough urgency or drive in the story to keep me interested. The climax was laughable and I could not sympathise with the characters' stakes no matter how dramatic it were.
Overall, this was an underwhelming, lacklustre novel that did not stand out to me at all. After being drawn to the blurb, this book was unfortunately not for me. I enjoyed Abé’s writing style so I may try her other books in the future in hope their storylines and characters are better. I would recommend this book if you are looking for a light, quick YA fantasy read and are going in with low expectations, otherwise there’s a chance that you’ll be disappointed.