Some books are merely enjoyable, while others reach into your heart, take a firm grip, and enchant you, from the first sentence to the last, and long beyond. Some books just refuse to let you go, and that was definitely true with The Sweetest Dark - haunting combination of historical romance mixed with elements of fantasy. Long after I finished Lora's story, I was still thinking about the characters, mourning the fact that I was done with this poignant, beautiful novel.
Author Shana Abe has brought 1915 London and the surrounding countryside to life with startling clarity. There's something about this era that I really enjoy reading about, and so I at once felt drawn into the atmosphere, which was at turns desperate and overwhelming, yet darkly beautiful all the same, from the orphanage where Lora Jones has spent her childhood, to the exclusive private academy she attends as a charity case. But don't count Lora out or disregard her - she's full of fire and life, and has a great, deep capacity to care about those around her. I loved Lora a bit before I finished this novel.
Lushly characterized by both amazingly fleshed-out main characters and equally compelling minor characters, I literally couldn't put down The Sweetest Dark. I read it in a few hours, turning the pages as quickly as I could to learn more about Lora, Jesse, and Armand, the three main characters. While Lora and Jesse tugged hard at my heartstrings, I wasn't sure about Armand until I was almost 3/4 through this seductively compelling novel. Armand is still something of an enigma, and although I eventually warmed up to him, it was Jesse that stole my heart, Jesse who made me smile and laugh, Jesse who I ultimately wanted so much more of...Jesse who I wanted to win Lora's heart. There is just the blush of a love triangle, but Shana Abe handles it masterfully; the romance in The Sweetest Dark is intoxicating, never over-done, never insta-love, never trite. Instead, it's organic and powerful.
Filled with mysteries shrouded in more questions, a delightfully creepy, sprawling castle, family intrigue, and a romance that WILL leave you swooning, The Sweetest Dark is a wonderful addition to the YA genre. The plot moves quickly at times, but not TOO much so, and all the characters are wonderfully developed - even one or two that I thought I knew surprised me! My only complaint is something that happened at the end. I know I probably shouldn't be sad, but wow, my heart just BROKE into so many pieces.
Whether you're looking for a heart-pounding romance you won't soon forget, an elaborate mythos steeped in fantasy and myths long forgotten, a spirited heroine, or a series of adventures in the midst of war-torn England, The Sweetest Dark is a must have! I don't know if there will be a direct sequel, but I hope there might be!