By Shana Abé
Available now from Bantam Books (Random House)
I bought THE SMOKE THIEF a few years ago for about a dollar based on a vague recollection of someone complimenting Shana Abé's style. It just rocketed up my to read list because her young adult debut THE SWEETEST DARK blew me away. (I just have to find it, first.)
First of, Abé's style does deserve being complimented on its own. She has a smooth, almost poetic, way of writing that draws you into the magical atmosphere of her drákon-inhabited England. The majority of THE SWEETEST DARK's action takes place at the Iverson School for Girls, on the coast of England during World War II. It's all very gothic, aside from the lack of moors.
Eleanore "Lora" Jones grew up in an orphanage and spent much of her childhood in a mental institution due to the music she heard running through objects all around her. Now seemingly cured, she is chosen to be a scholarship student supported by Duke Idylling. There she encounters Jesse, the supposedly mute gardener who speaks to her, and Armand, the duke's discontented son. And there the music begins to return. Jesse knows what it means and helps Lora discover her power.
I liked how Abé handled the love triangle. Armand is clearly into Lora, but she turns him down cleanly and clearly because she prefers Jesse. There's no dithering about when she's obviously more into one of the choices. I also liked that it wasn't the center of everything. Although there's nothing magical about the girls in the school, Lora does have to live with them. Thus learning to navigate their company takes some of her attention. I liked that not all of the girls were horribly stuck-up and that some were more friendly than they first appeared.
The way history interweaves with the paranormal plot also works well. London-born Lora is quite conscious of the threat posed by German bombs. And, inevitably, the war does reach her doorstep. Even with dragons on your side, war leaves devastation in its wake.
THE SWEETEST DARK made me forget the paranormal fatigue I've been feeling. It's a swoony book that I'll probably read multiple times before the promised sequel comes out in summer 2013. If you've ever enjoyed a paranormal romance, then read THE SWEETEST DARK. It's one of the best books of the year.