Dark and Deepest Red by Anna-Marie McLemore

With Anna-Marie 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.

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.

TITLE: Dark and Deepest Red

AUTHOR: Anna-Marie McLemore
PUBLISHER: Feiwel & Friends
YEAR: 2020
LENGTH: 320 pages
AGE: Young Adult
GENRE: Fantasy

Retelling of “The Red Shoes” by Hans Christian Andersen.

Queer Rep Summary: Lesbian/Sapphic Secondary Character(s), Gay/Achillean Minor Character(s), Genderqueer/Nonbinary Secondary Character(s).

I was not already familiar with "The Red Shoes", but I love this as a retelling. It takes most of the parts of the original and remixes them in beautiful ways. DARK AND DEEPEST RED takes a pretty judgmental story about a girl harmed by wearing red shoes (i.e. being very visible and ostentatious, among other social implications) and transforms it into one about reclaiming family history, personal heritage, and self-confidence as a marginalized person (and does so in two different eras). I liked this a lot and I definitely recommend it. I read the original short story before reading DARK AND DEEPEST RED because I wasn't already familiar with it, but unless you're a completionist there's no need to do that.

As a brief aside: it’s fascinating to me that one of the realistic and very believable parts of this book is the dancing plague. They’re real things that have really happened at different times in history (including Strausbourg, 1518), but they fit right into the magical feeling of this story. 

The chapters are on the short side and rotate pretty consistently between the three main characters, only breaking the pattern a couple of times. I sometimes felt stymied because just as something really interesting was happening in one section it would end and switch to the next narrator, but towards the end the switches started really working for me and I liked the effect a lot better. It’s a structural choice that leads to some pretty cool transitions between sections as they are thematically linked (two perspectives share a time and the third does not).

CW for ableism, misogyny, transphobia, homophobia, antisemitism (backstory), racism, blood, parental death (backstory), death.

BTB 2021 Reading Challenge (QAOC)

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A young woman in profile, silhouetted against a red forest and an orange moon. Inside the profile are four figures dancing among trees in a purple-lit forest. Thorny vines caress the bottom of the image.


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