Dark and Deepest Red by Anna-Marie McLemore // Slow paced and not what I expected

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Dark and Deepest Red

by Anna-Marie McLemore

eARC, 320 pages

Expected publication: January 14th 2020 by Feiwel Friends


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.


I received an eARC of this book through Edelweiss Plus in exchange for an honest review.

Trigger Warning: transphobia, homophobia, antiziganism, racism

The Dancing plague of 1518 is one of the most interesting and also mind-boggling part of history. A plague that causes the whole city to dance?? That’s unheard of and definitely hard to believe. But it did happened and until now, no known causes have been decided. I’ve heard a lot of lovely things about Anna-Marie McLemore books so I figure who will be better to write a story about the event other than one of the most beloved YA retellings writer?

Unfortunately, this book really didn’t work for me. I was really mislead by the blurb and expect a totally different story. I expected the diversity in the story, based on the author’s past books, treatment against minority has long been a central theme in the story. But I did not expect how much it will play a part in the story. While I understand the importance of the discourse and understanding of the history towards our character development, I was not in the space to received it. Sometimes you just want to read for fun and get lost in the story as a distraction, you know?

The Romani culture is sure interesting and I feel like I learn a lot while reading this book, both on the culture and what does it mean to be a Romani. But the focus towards societal rules and repercussions made it feel like the story never really took off for me. I couldn’t see the direction of the story, nor the cause and resolution of the plague ever explained. From the blurb, it seems like we’re going to focus on investigating the plague and get some “answers”, but we never really did that.

The writing is really lyrical and descriptive. I usually love this style of writing, especially for retellings, but in this case, I ended up being detached from the characters and skimming a lot of description. It felt repetitive and adds nothing to the story.

Emil and Rosella’s narratives were also weaker compared to Lala’s. I absolutely love Lala’s as we learned about her life, how she hides her true self and had to isolate herself for the fear of discovery. It made her oversee the friendship she had, but also how she find her solace in Alifair. I absolutely love reading about them and about Tante Dorenia, how she uprooted her life for Lala, took in Alifair despite the challenge she might face, and stood up for herself. Meanwhile, Emil and Rosella really have nothing going on, it’s more like things happening to them, with uninteresting romance and I really did not enjoy the way Emil learned about his family history.

I really tried with this book, but ultimately it’s just not my read and no one is sadder other than me. I enjoyed learning about Romani culture and appalled at the treatment them and LGBTQ+ society at that time received. But at the same time, I was expecting more time on the plot and the lack of answers and interesting characters are what ultimately made me did not enjoy the book.



7 thoughts on “Dark and Deepest Red by Anna-Marie McLemore // Slow paced and not what I expected

  1. Damn, I’m sorry this one disappointed you! Like you, I’ve been really looking forward to reading Anna Marie McLemore’s novels, but I guess this is not the best place to start. I’m scared of what you wrote about the lack of plot in particular – I’m fine with slow novels… but only if the characters are outstanding, which doesn’t seem to be the case here. 😦 Great review, Tasya!


  2. Oh no! I’m sorry this one didn’t work out for you, Tasya. I’ve only read one of this author’s books and it didn’t click with me as much as I wished it had. And then I’ve been a bit worried to pick up any of the others… I know what you mean about sometimes just wanting to pick up a book for fun. If a book is about the bad treatment of people I really need to be prepared for that because it makes me so upset and angry. So thank you for letting us know it has some intense parts to it!


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