Review: Dark and Deepest Red

Title: Dark and Deepest Red
Author:  Anna-Marie McLemore
Genres: Fantasy, Historical, Romance, LGBTQIA
Pages: 309
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: Available now

Summary: 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.

Review: [Note: This book contains discussions of violence against racial/ethnic minorities and queer people, including the threat of rape and mob violence/public execution.]

Anna-Marie McLemore is one of my favorite authors in young adult fiction right now. Their books are always filled with magic, fairytales, danger, beautiful prose, and queer and Latinx characters. DARK AND DEEPEST RED, inspired by the fairytale The Red Shoes and the dancing plague of 1518, has all of that again, plus a narrative that swings back and forth from 1518 to the present.

McLemore figured out they were nonbinary during the production of DARK AND DEEPEST RED, a novel that focuses heavily on how the world perceives people and how people claim themselves. The different journeys that Lala, Rosella, and Emil go on as they sort out their own identities are well-written callbacks to one another as the narrative jumps back and forth between the past and the present. Lala and her aunt have to hide that they are Romani as it is illegal for them to be in Strasbourg, and Alifair is a trans boy who they took in. Emil also hides and disconnects from his Romani heritage after an incident at school, and Rosella keeps running up against white beauty standards.

I found the book slightly uneven; I was more interested in what was going on with Lala and Alifair in 1518 than the other couple. I wish the book were longer so we had more time to explore the relationship developing between Rosella and Emil. Their relationship didn’t feel as strong to me as Lala and Alifair’s relationship, and I wish I’d had more of it. Lala’s relationship with her aunt was also a standout for me. (Overall, I just really love Lala, okay?)

Recommendation: Get it soon. If you’ve enjoyed McLemore’s previous books and their brand of blending magical realism and fairytales, you’ll likely have fun with DARK AND DEEPEST RED as well. While I felt the contemporary romance was weaker than the historical, both timelines boasted interesting characters and beautiful moments.