Monday, July 22, 2013

The Sweetest Dark by Shana Abe

Links: Goodreads Amazon B&N

Given the number of YA books I've read this year, it's takes a lot to stand out from the paranormal/love triangle/angsty crowd. TSD has the distinction of its setting - WWI England - that gives the formula a little more interest. Unfortunately, Abe doesn't really do much with it other than the faintly Victorian attitudes about social interaction and the uneven availability of electricity. Otherwise, the characters and plot follow the trend of a plucky heroine, Lora, whose latent powers are summoned through the tug-of-war between two beautiful boys, one blond and one brunet. As any YA reader worth her salt knows, the guy with the opposite hair color as the girl will prevail.

Predictable is forgivable. YA is a guilty pleasure for me so I'm not looking for surprises. Still, would it kill an author to write a thoughtful, plucky girl? Is that oxymoronic? Teens are emotional, okay, but something between the ears can help make actual sense of the drama once in a while. I would like to see a girl function with a normal amount of faculties without merely being tossed from one emotional, impulsive wave to the next. Usually by a questionable male, no less. SMFeministH.

My other problem, and with this book in particular, is Lora's total lack of agency. From the moment of her birth, her destiny has been written. Okay, it's a magical world, such shit happens. But it's Jesse who sets the immediate action in motion via WORLD WAR. That's sick, fiction license or not. Lora is briefly aghast at the means by which he has called her, but if she has any kind of soul, I see years of psychotherapy in her future. That's a horrible burden to leave her with. Although Jesse is meant to be a benevolent character, the level of manipulation and the imbalance of power/information triggered low-level nausea whenever he appeared, which is most of the time. In the book he's 17, but in my mind his character felt like a much older and inappropriate age for Lora.

Despite these abysmal and all-too-common flaws, Abe does create a decent plot and smooth reading. I pretty much read it in one sitting. Lora is an orphan who begins at an exclusive school as a scholarship student. She uses her street smarts, sharp tongue, and stiff spine to fight off undermining fellow students. Lora is a lovely mix of humble and proud, gracefully handling those that believe someone of her status doesn't deserve dignity. Other than her semi-idiotic trust of Jesse, she is an exceptional girl-woman character. The other female characters were all well-constructed and unique. Maybe Abe is awkward writing men. I also didn't quite buy the world Abe built, but that just may be a personal bias - twists on old mythology are harder to swallow than the paranormal worlds of late. I have a few of her adult books set in the same world that I'm about to begin reading, so I reserve judgment there.

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