Dark and Deepest Red by Anna-Marie McLemore was one of the books that I had included on my list of January 2020 new releases, and I finally got to read it!
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.
I must be on a fairy tale retelling kick, because I somehow missed that this one was based on a fairy tale. However, much like the others I have read, it was done so well, and doesn’t make everything sunshine and rainbows. Let’s be honest — a book with no conflict isn’t one that holds my attention.
“How, in his house, fairy tales were neither just the sparkle of fairy lights nor blood on glass slippers. They were beautiful and dangerous all at once, the glossed candy red of a poison apple.”
The book juxtaposes the dancing plague that occurred in 1518 Strasbourg with present day events in Briar Meadow. It was written in a way to show how much things have changed, while highlighting the things that haven’t changed at all.
While the point of view switches between Lavinia, Rosella, and Emil, it flowed perfectly. The prose itself is beautiful and poetic. It had a lyric and enchanting quality that made reading this book an uncommonly enjoyable experience.
“They emerged from linen cabinets and coat closets. They showed up in dining rooms, and slender women who’d sworn off bread years ago ate slices of black forest cake like they were drinking in a new perfume.”
“Well-crafted seams and delicate beading gave my family a trade and a living. But red shoes gave us a name. They made us infamous. They made us brazen. Until they came for us. Except that’s not quite true. They didn’t come for us. They came for me.”
The book deals with some heavy themes, including discrimination, persecution, sexuality, gender, and witchcraft. It’s done really well, and everything is handled in a sensitive, appropriate manner.
“And I kept those pieces as a reminder. I would find a way to make sure we never had to destroy something of ourselves just to stop other people from taking it.”
“The first, the least, was that those relatives were stripped of their home and livelihoods. Because so often, that was what being Romani meant. It meant being blamed. It meant holding your ground as best you could, because if you gave every inch they asked for, they would drive you off the earth. And sometimes it meant they did anyway.”
I loved everything about this book. Every word felt intentionally placed, like a beautiful work of art, or a decadent meal where every bite ought to be savored. The pace was just right to keep me hooked from the first page to the last. And it’s one of the best books I’ve read this year.
People who have sat around with me while I’m reading, especially when there’s a surprising reveal, a shocking plot twist, or an unexpected event often look up in alarm when I gasp audibly. The gasp factor is directly related to the number of times I audibly gasp during a reading, and there isn't an upper limit.
Gasp Factor: 10
Overall Rating: 5 out of 5 stars