Published by Feiwel & Friends on January 14, 2020
Genres: Diversity, Fantasy, LGBT, Magical Realism, Romance, Young Adult
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Summer, 1518. A strange sickness sweeps through Strasbourg: women dance in the streets, some until they fall down dead. As rumors of witchcraft spread, suspicion turns toward Lavinia and her family, and Lavinia may have to do the unimaginable to save herself and everyone she loves.
Five centuries later, a pair of red shoes seal to Rosella Oliva’s feet, making her dance uncontrollably. They draw her toward a boy who knows the dancing fever’s history better than anyone: Emil, whose family was blamed for the fever five hundred years ago. But there’s more to what happened in 1518 than even Emil knows, and discovering the truth may decide whether Rosella survives the red shoes.
With McLemore's signature lush prose, Dark and Deepest Red pairs the forbidding magic of a fairy tale with a modern story of passion and betrayal.
Dark and Deepest Red is a magical realism story inspired by Hans Christian Anderson’s The Red Shoes and the dancing plague of 1518 in Strasbourg. Like all of Anna-Marie McLemore’s books, it’s beautifully written and incorporates elements of magical realism that makes it really delightful to read. It’s a story about embracing who you are and your family history, even if you’re worried about not being accepted. It’s not really my favourite of McLemore’s books, but I have no doubt that you’ll enjoy it if you’ve enjoyed her previous stories.
The novel is uses alternating timelines: we follow Lala’s story from 1518 Strasbourg and we follow Emil and Rosella in modern day Briar Meadow 500 years later. Lala is of Romani descent and has tried her hardest to hide it from everyone in Strasbourg for fear of banishment. But despite her best efforts to not draw attention to herself as being different, when the dancing plague begins to affect hundreds of people, Lala and her aunt is blamed for causing the plague. 500 years later, Rosella Oliva, who comes from a family of shoemakers, finds herself dancing uncontrollably after putting on a pair of red shoes. The shoes have sealed themselves to her feet and nothing Rosella does will get them off. When she has the shoes on, she finds herself in a trance and drawn towards Emil, who has been having strange dreams about an ancestor who was blamed for causing the dancing plague of 1518. Together, the two of them have to figure out the truth of what happened in 1518 in order to save Rosella from dancing herself to death.
The writing in this book is beautiful, as to be expected of Anna-Marie McLemore. The pacing of the book is quite slow and it isn’t really helped by the fact that things happen slowly because of the dual timelines. Each chapter is also quite short (about 2-3 pages). I tend to really like this kind of slow pacing and the short, vignette-like chapters (ahem, All the Light We Cannot See) so it didn’t really bother me, but it’s probably not going to be for everyone. I did find the ending to be slightly rushed though and I would definitely benefit from a reread because I don’t think I fully understood everything that was happening. But even though it didn’t all come together for me, I really liked the plot of the novel and loved the inspiration behind Dark and Deepest Red.
I wouldn’t say that I really related to any of the characters that deeply, though I do have a soft spot for Lala. Throughout the novel, we follow Lala, Rosella and Emil’s perspectives and I enjoyed Lala’s perspective (and the 1518 setting and timeline) more than what was happening with Rosella and Emil. Her character had a great balance between being strong and sensitive, and I honestly would’ve loved to have read even more about her life. What I did find a little strange was that Lala and Emil’s chapters were written from a third person perspective, while Rosella’s was in first person. It wasn’t jarring but it did strike me as odd a few times when I was reading the novel.
Perhaps another reason why I enjoyed Lala a bit more than Emil and Rosella was her connection with the other characters. Her relationship with her aunt and her friend-turned-lover, Alifair, who is a transman, was beautiful and really propelled the story. But I also enjoyed her friendship with others in Strasbourg and how they supported each other. We didn’t really get to see much of this in Emil and Rosella’s chapters. This might’ve been because the modern day timeline was split between their two perspectives and we got to see much less of the two of them, compared to Lala. I’m still not quite sure that I know who Emil and Rosella are.
While this wasn’t my favourite Anna-Marie McLemore novel, I’m always impressed by her ability to write whimsical and magical plots that keep you captivated. I loved the inspiration behind Dark and Deepest Red and really enjoyed reading about Romani culture. As always, McLemore’s writing is beautiful and it’ll leave you wanting more even if the pacing and the format isn’t for you.
Rating: 4 out of 5
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