THE SWEETEST DARK - Shana Abé
Bantam Books
ISBN-10: 0-345-53170-1
ISBN-13: 978-0-345-53170-4
April 2013
Young Adult Paranormal Fiction

England - 1914

In 1909 the police find a mute ten-year-old girl roaming the streets of London. They turn her over to the Blisshaven orphanage, where the attendants give her the name Eleanore Jones, who came to be called Lora. Her language comes back slowly. They send her to the Moor Gate Institute for the Socially Afflicted Youth in 1914 because she constantly claims to hear voices and music no one else hears. There she receives mercury tonics, ice bath submergence, and electrical shock therapy. Declared healed, she returns to Blisshaven, but the air raids from the war with Germany threaten Blisshaven's occupants. The children are sent to other homes in England. An unexpected invitation arrives for Lora, and she becomes a charity student at the prestigious Iverson School for Girls in Wessex on the southern coast of England. The Duke of Idyllig funds the school now located in his family's ancient castle.

As soon as she arrives Eleanore hears music again—and she has a reaction she's never experienced after a young man named Jesse touches her hand. Being the only charity student among rich and entitled girls, Lora makes no friends and is the recipient of condescension and verbal snubs. However, Jesse Holms, whom she learns is one of the groundskeepers, and the duke's second son, Armand Louis, show great interest in her. Her classmates do not notice Jesse's attention for they consider him inferior, but they certainly notice Armand's attention to Eleanore, which causes more friction. She settles in and follows the rigid behavior rules of the school. Change doesn't come easy after all her hardship, but she finally has enough food to eat, and Jesse even says he knows who she is—someone he has been waiting for his entire life. As German zeppelins drop bombs on England, the war will come to Iverson.

As a far from young adult reader, I found THE SWEETEST DARK an enchanting story, like a beguiling fairytale never heard before. The story returns to the concept of the Drákon world established in the author's previous novels. Jones is the poorest of the poor living amid children of indulged entitlement, but her hardships have created personal qualities far more valuable than any the other girls possess. THE SWEETEST DARK follows Eleanore's journey to discover what she is and accept herself in a world that ostracizes and dismisses her. The setting contains layers of complexity including the era's cultural and social differences. While there are dramatic finger-biting scenes, many seem filled with subtle inferences where readers must read between the lines, and some remain obscure. The powerful descriptions of both the physical world and the ethereal entrap the reader in a sensual existence that carries them through the scenes. There are other voices heard from which tend to interrupt Eleanore's journey at random times, making the ride somewhat bumpy. These do not feel like a writing lapse, but traps intended to capture the reader in wonderment of this world, and in turn, the unanswered questions make this story feel like the start of a series (good!). While labeled for young adults, THE SWEETEST DARK is a story for all to read and savor.

Robin Lee