“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.
This is a young adult novel set in the world of Shana Abe's adult drakon series, of which I've read only the first, The Smoke Thief. But I thoroughly enjoyed that novel and was pleased to see that The Sweetest Dark picks up with one of the descendants of The Smoke Thief's Kit and Rue. But it is not at all necessary to read the other series first, as this one stands on its own, and takes place many years later.
The Sweetest Dark combines a great set of elements into one emotional and compelling YA read: a mysterious and mystical story, a gothic boarding school, a streetwise waif who's tough on the outside but vulnerable on the inside, a golden boy who teaches her how to open her heart and a bad boy who wishes she'd open her heart to him, and the added bonus of a historical setting, on the English coast during World War I, with the ever present threat of German air raids.
Lora's had a tough life, and though earning a spot at a ritzy boarding school would seem to be a dream come true, it actually makes Lora's life even harder in some ways. She's shunned by the other students, but that doesn't really matter to her. All her life Lora has heard and seen things that others could not, has felt urges and desires she could not understand, and has suffered at the hands of doctors who thought she was crazy. Her "symptoms" come back in full force at Iverson, but this time there's someone there who understands, someone who knows exactly what's going on with her. It becomes apparent that Lora was brought to Iverson for a reason, and her life will never be the same. She's drawn to Jesse, the handsome groundskeeper who does not speak, but who sings a song of beauty and sweetness that only Lora can hear. And though she fights it, she's also drawn to Armand, the rich son of the duke who sponsors the school, who wages his own battle against darkness and despair, despite his privileged upbringing. But it turns out Lora and Armand have more in common than they'd ever dreamed: they are believed to be the last of the drakon, and it's Jesse's job to help them find their true selves and embrace their destinies. For the first time Lora has a sense of who she is and what her life can be, she's found a place where she belongs, but it's all about to be shattered when the war arrives at Iverson.
The Sweetest Dark is beautifully written--haunting and intoxicating with a lovely mystical quality. The characters are well-drawn and the relationships between them are complicated and bittersweet. It's a truly unique story in today's YA scene with much more style and subtlety than most. I'm bumping it down a notch because I thought the ending was a bit rushed and some aspects were too over-the-top, but I loved the way everything came full circle, and though it was terribly sad, it also left me very hopeful for the future and anxious to read the continuation of the story.
My Rating: 4.5 Stars out of 5
*Please Note: This review references an advance copy received from the publisher through the Amazon Vine program. These are my unbiased opinions and I was not compensated in any other way for reviewing this book.