Eleanore has no memory of who she was before she was found wandering the streets of London in the early 1900s. Placed in an orphanage, she would have easily blended in with the other lost children if she hadn't spoken aloud the secret she carried: She hears music when there is none, sweet songs vibrating from the metal around her. Locked in a mental institution, she learns to tune out the songs, but just when she is to be released, the First World War breaks out. Eleanore is then sent to the country and given the charity spot at a prestigious all-girls school.
The Iverson School for Girls proves to be a cold, unwelcoming place, but soon Eleanore finds reasons to be happy, like the handsome groundskeeper Jesse, with whom she seems to have an instant connection. But things become complicated when her benefactor’s son, Armand, also takes an interest in her.
Jesse reveals that he knows why she hears music others don't: She’s a Drakon—but what that means, she does not know. Eleanore learns she can transform into shimmering smoke at will, but to become who she truly is meant to be, she must work toward an even more dramatic transformation.
An orphan girl with a strange secret discovers her own ancient magic.
First introduced in her adult Drakon series, Shaba Abé’s new dragon mythology creates a unique world for Eleanore to explore. The book’s greatest strength is its strong-willed protagonist who never lets herself be made to feel inferior. She owns her powers, but it’s not her powers alone that give her courage—it’s her own sense of self-worth.
The novel can drag where too much focus is given to the day-to-day drudgery that Eleanore must endure at school, but the questions that are left unanswered until almost the very end about Drakons and Eleanore's heritage keep the reader engaged. The romance between Eleanore and Jesse, as well as the tension between Eleanore and Armand, are also compelling as their feelings become parts of their destinies.
The Sweetest Dark is a novel that borrows from many genres, from historical fiction to fantasy to romance. What pulls the book together is the well-drawn characters that are easy for almost any reader to connect to.
Molly Horan has her MFA in writing for children and young adults from The New School.