Friday, March 22, 2013

The Sweetest Dark by Shana Abe and A Poets Journey

The sixth book in Shana Abe's perfectly marvelous "Drakon" series of paranormal romances, The Sweetest Dark came to me as an ARC from Random House that was a welcome surprise in a particularly rough week of Crohns flares.
I devoured The Sweetest Dark within 2 days (and it would have been one day had I not had to eat, sleep, spend time in the restroom and deal with activities of daily life) because Abe has this near magical ability to write characters that you not only identify with, but characters that seem so real and enchanting that you fall in love with them and truly want them to succeed, as you would a cherished friend or beloved relation. It doesn't hurt that most of the protagonists of her Drakon series are the disenfranchised, the lonely and unusual, the poor of pocket but not of spirit kind of people.
Her prose is pure gold, mesmerizing in it's luxurious folds that glow and glimmer like lamme or the finest silk. The plot moves at a swift but efficient pace, never slowing for too much description or narration, and the internal logic of the story makes all the magical events seem normal and natural within the story arc.
Abe is the Queen of paranormal romance, combining the writing styles of Patricia McKillip with that of John Steinbeck and a touch of Shakespeare's lyric to create a novel that grasps your hand on page one and pulls you onto the dance floor, not letting you go until, gasping, the final note has been played.
The story takes place in the England of 1915, where Eleanora,"Lora" Jones is an orphan with the kind of grit and fire it takes to survive the cruelties of King George V's England. She is enrolled in an elite boarding school called Iverson, where she meets Jesse, the school's groundskeeper, who is actually a star come to earth, and Armand, a handsome aristocrat who is, like Lora, part drakon and part human. Drakon are able to dissolve into smoke and turn from human to dragon after puberty. They are also able to smell and hear the music of jewels and minerals. Lora finds that she can play this music on a piano, though she's never had lessons in her life, and she also discovers a deep love of the stars and of Jesse, her own protective star, as well as Armand, her drakon alpha. Lora also learns to listen to the voice of the dragon within, and to trust herself and to fight back against the petty bullies at Iverson.
I was so enthralled with this glorious story, I didn't want it to end, and was depressed that the book ended before readers could discover whether or not Armand and Lora marry and continue on the drakon line, or even whether Armand ever learns to transform into his dragon form and fly free with Lora across the moonlit skies. (This book is available on April  2, 2013 from your local bookstore or Amazon/Barnes and
But regardless, The Sweetest Dark is a masterpiece of fantasy fiction that is so lush and brilliant, it should be considered a jewel in it's own right. Though it is being marketed as Young Adult fiction, I feel that, like The Hobbit, or the Harry Potter series, this is a book that adults who love a good fairy tale can enjoy, too. A solid A, and I would recommend it to anyone who loves beautiful stories/legends that enchant and draw you into their world.
{Note: The other books in Shana Abe's drakon series are, The Smoke Thief, The Dream Thief. Queen of Dragons, The Treasure Keeper and The Time Weaver.}
I would love to read this book, not just because it is about poets and poetry, but also because I have a long-standing fascination with Scotland and its people. 
I hope to one day visit Scotland and Wales, and navigate the moors myself.

Review: Walking Home: A Poet's Journey

As a memoir of traveling on foot, Simon Armitage's Walking Home is more
a cousin to Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods than Cheryl Strayed's
Wild. It's the amiable story of a 19-day ramble along the 256-mile
Pennine Way, bisecting England from the Midlands to the Scottish
border--at times a world of stunning beauty, but more often an
"unglamorous slog among soggy, lonely moors, requiring endurance and

Instead of traversing the trail from south to north, as is the custom,
Armitage decided to proceed in the opposite direction so he would finish
in the town of Edale, near his home. The other reason for his choice of
direction--the sense that this way he'd be walking downhill--turns out
to be hilariously wrongheaded. Armitage financed his trip with nightly
poetry readings, and he's meticulous about recording his take at each
stop, along with all the other odd objects audience members deposited
into the sock he passed for the voluntary offering.

There are no wild animals or outlaws to menace Armitage along the way,
but he recounts some frightening moments when he's lost in the mists of
the Cheviot Hills or scrambling up a narrow path on the mountain
ominously known as Cross Fell ("a truly terrible place"), where he
eventually beholds "a dizzying vastness full to the brink with nothing
but light and air." The boggy moorlands Armitage navigates bring to mind
the works of the Bronte sisters, and he remarks on the hordes of
tourists (many of them Japanese) who flock to the ruined farmhouse at
Top Withens that may have inspired the Earnshaw house of Wuthering
Heights. Armitage shares the path at times with a motley crew that
includes his wife and daughter and a college friend nicknamed Slug.
Their quirks and the litany of odd English place names--from the
waterfall known as Cauldron Snout to Blakehopeburnhaugh to Buttertubs
Pass--only add to his account's consistent charm.

The appeal of a book like Walking Home turns largely on the likeability
of its narrator, and Armitage scores high on that scale. Possessed of an
ample supply of sharp and self-deprecating British wit, he's erudite but
still in most respects an Everyman. Perhaps best of all, he concludes
his journey in a way that's as surprising for its candor as it is
completely satisfying. --Harvey Freedenberg

Unfortunately, this quote from Shelf Awareness is all too true about working in print journalism today.
"Newspapers always have been liberal places where people work hard for little pay, because they believe in the job. They always could empathize with the poor. But pay continues to dwindle to the point that I wonder what kind of person, today, enrolls in journalism school?"
Another very true quote:
"Tricky because I feel like that's what books do--they alter the course
of your life. Sometimes it's a nudge, sometimes it's a 180-degree turn.
You finish any book filled with new knowledge or new stories or new
insights about yourself. That's why I won't give away my raggedy
books--they are all memories, moments that changed me, steered me and
formed me. Pick one? Albert Einstein's Relativity. Novels I read to
forget the author and wander the world they've created. But to read the
words of a genius who changed the course of the world, his voice
speaking directly to me--that brought home the power of books, the power
of an individual human mind, and the miracle of writing that is the one
true elixir of immortality. "Deborah Cloyed, from Shelf Awareness' Book Brahmin


Anonymous said...

Have you seen the next book? The Deepest Night? My heart still hurts for Jesse, he was amazing.

DeAnn G. Rossetti said...

Hi abookishescape, thank you for stopping by!
No, I haven't seen the next book, but I assume since The Sweetest Dark hasn't even reached its pub date yet (in April) that we aren't going to get the chance to read The Deepest Night for a year or so, which is usual for book publishing.
Still, I totally agree with you about Jesse,that wonderful star who adores dragons, and one drakon in particular! But it seemed to me that at the end, Lora was going to marry Armand and hopefully continue the line of drakon, because she can't be with Jesse anymore, as he's twinkling in the night sky. Even though I tried to read it as slowly as I could, this book was finished too soon!