Title: Dark and Deepest Red
Author: Anna-Marie McLemore
Pub. Date: January 14th 2020
Genre: YA Historical Fiction/LGBTQIA+
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan
Pages: 309 Pages
*ARC provided by Publisher in exchange for an honest review*
“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.”
I’ve always been intrigued by the Salem Witch trials & the mass hysteria caused by outcries of devil worship. This story however takes place in 1500’s Strasbourg, a time when Romani people were being forced out of France & Germany. Our MC Lala is a Romani girl, she is a person of color, unwed, makes her own living and is in love with a transgender boy. She must give up all Romani traditions & beliefs if she is to pass off as German or French in Strasbourg. Lala has a target on her back when the women are inflicted with dancing fever, a dance they cannot stop & often ends in injury or death. Witchcraft is believed to be at the very heart of these dances as more and more women are touched by the fevered dance. The author gives us Lala’s POV during this time while also jumping ahead to her descendants in current time.
Five centuries later we meet Rosala Oliva & Emil who have ties to Lala & figuring out what those are may help stop the dancing fever from returning. Rosala’s family has been making the red shoes said to deliver a bit of magic to its wearer. Being Romani is something Rosala & Emil have in common, something they know makes them different. Five centuries later their traditions and beliefs aren’t something they’re made to feel they can openly share. When the threat of the Dancing Fever looms over Rosala she turns to Emil who is the only person who can shed some light on the history that binds her both literally & figuratively to her red shoes.
Content Warning: death, religious persecution, racism, homophobia/transphobia, some body horror
We follow two sets of characters, those in 1500’s Strasbourg & those in present day. I personally loved how well fleshed out Lala, Tante, and Alifair are as their part of history is brought to life. Lala knows it’s only a matter of time before she’s made a target of injustice & hate once the dancing fever takes a hold. She knows the odds are well stacked against her even as she falls deeply in love with Alifair who is a transgender boy. Seeking acceptance from those around them is something both Lala & Rosella share in common. They make themselves blend in so as to stay safe. Both learn that embracing that which sets them apart is really the only way to fight back oppression. I admired Alifair’s strength & how protective he is of his found family (Lala & Tante) while also carrying his own secret that if exposed would mean sure death.
Emil & Rosala were also very interesting characters to follow as they navigate relationships with their peers. Their parents have passed down their own knowledge of things that happened during the 1500’s to some of their ancestors. A knowledge that weighs heavy because it’s filled with pain, violence, and persecution for being Romani. These characters know they carry within them a history so rich it’s seeping into their day to day lives. It’s safe to say McLemore has once again delivered an unforgettable cast of characters.
Told in Multiple POV format this is a YA Historical Fantasy in which we follow two sets of characters. Most of the focus however is on Lala & her family in the 1500’s, these characters are well fleshed out vs. the ones we meet in present day. That being said, I felt this worked well since history has a way of repeating itself. Understanding where it all started was emphasized in the way this story was weaved. Although difficult to see, the time I spent reading Lala’s POV was perhaps what I loved most about this book. This may be my bias because I hold a special place in my heart for Historical Fiction but the touch of magical realism McLemore delivers so well is really what draws me in. Scenes with Tante dyeing cloth to sell in rich colors contrasted against the fevered women dancing through the streets till their feet were raw visually stand out. The heavy blanket of anxiety that sits on top of these characters is felt by the reader. Despite the darkness, I am thankful for how McLemore is consistent with delivering a sense of hope with all of their stories. There is a sense of solidarity that comes through at the very end that stirred up some deep emotions within me. I will continue to read all that Anna-Marie McLemore writes for the simple fact that their stories leave a lasting impression in my soul.
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