4/5 stars — a heavy yet ultimately hopeful story of love and sacrifice
Anna-Marie McLemore brings to life two interwoven tales of identity, persecution, and solidarity in their fifth novel, a standalone YA fantasy. Dark and Deepest Red combines magic with the too-real struggles against racism and transphobia, and both cause pain and heartache.
The book has a complex structure, following four major characters across two timelines and three points of view. Despite this, it was tightly plotted, a relatively quick read at around 300 pages. For the most part, I found the pacing fast but in a good way; the one exception was in the third act, when the modern storyline with Emil and Rosella progressed too quickly to have the emotional impact I felt it deserved.
My favorite aspects of the book were McLemore’s signature lyrical prose and the glimpses of hope—often brought about through minorities supporting each other in the face of unjust accusations—against an otherwise bleak background. Intersectionality as a means of survival is a powerful message.
I didn’t enjoy Dark and Deepest Red quite as much as other books I’ve read by McLemore, but it may be because this story was heavier on plot than character and atmosphere. It was still an excellent novel and I’m happy to report that they did indeed “out-gay themself” with a brilliant and unexpected ending that had me biting my nails. I highly recommend Dark and Deepest Red to fans of McLemore’s other work and anyone who enjoys dark yet romantic retellings and/or historical fantasy; readers who came for the transmasculine, Romani, and Latinx rep won’t be disappointed.
Content warnings: racism (on-page toward Romani and Latinx people, mentioned toward Jewish people), use of the g-slur, homophobia, transphobia, blackface
I made a dulce de leche cake adapted from this Preppy Kitchen recipe and colored red to match the book's gorgeous cover! It's four layers of browned butter vanilla sponge sandwiched with dulce de leche and covered in dulce de leche buttercream.