A Darkness Strange and Lovely by Susan Dennard

A Darkness Strange and Lovely Cover.jpg

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With her brother dead and her mother unwell, Eleanor Fitt is alone. Even the Spirit-Hunters—Joseph, Jie, and the handsome Daniel—have fled to Paris. So when Eleanor hears the vicious barking of hounds and sees haunting yellow eyes, she fears that the Dead, and the necromancer Marcus, are after her.

To escape, Eleanor boards a steamer bound for France. There she meets Oliver, a young man who claims to have known her brother. But Oliver harbors a dangerous secret involving necromancy and black magic that entices Eleanor. If she can resist him, she’ll be fine. When she arrives in Paris, she finds a whole new evil lurking—forcing her to make a deadly decision that will go against everything the Spirit-Hunters stand for.

In Paris, there’s a price for this darkness strange and lovely, and it may have Eleanor paying with her life.

3 STARS

CW: loss of a loved one, graphic injury, violence (including gun violence)

Tragically, A Darkness Strange and Lovely suffers from the ever-dreaded middle book syndrome. While it’s not a terrible book (I’ve yet to read anything truly awful from Sooz, and doubt I ever will), it doesn’t have nearly the roaring pace or breadth of character that Something Strange and Deadly had to offer. That fault, too, comes down to one thing: Eleanor Fitt is not at the center of it all.

I mean, she still is. But the bulk of A Darkness Strange and Lovely seems to happen with Eleanor reacting to the wonders and horrors of Paris, and the looming threat of Marcus. Every time she attempts to be proactive, it’s brushed aside by the rest of the cast withholding information from her or simply refusing to cooperate, which is one of my biggest bookish pet peeves.

That said, I didn’t hate reading this book. After all, it does advance the plot, and we get a new character in Oliver the demon, who’s stuck in a tenuous relationship with Eleanor, a deal they made to save their lives from forces they can’t hope to overpower. Oliver isn’t entirely likable, necessarily, but he is an interesting new variable in the plot, one that allows Eleanor to explore the avenues necromancy offers (even if the Spirit-Hunters are furious with her for doing so), and one that could either help save the day or ruin everything. He’s a confusing blend of human and demon, sometimes almost generous, other times entirely selfish, and it creates a character who isn’t entirely predictable, but in sharp and exciting ways.

It’s also implied that he was in love with Eleanor’s brother, Elijah, but I really don’t care for the trope of a gay character falling in love with a straight boy who will never love him back/a straight boy who died. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Then again, this is from 2013, so was I really expecting better? Unfortunately, no.

Going back to the positives, we do see more of Jie and Eleanor’s friendship, and the things that test it, which was nice. We also get this new, polished Danny that both Eleanor and I can’t stand, so when the pieces of old, rough around the edges Danny poke through, it’s such a relief in its familiarity.

More props for also crafting a story about the dead in Paris that doesn’t rely on the catacombs! I expected to see them, but they make a very minor appearance (which really might not even be THE CATACOMBS so much as some underground tunnels), and that was a nice change of pace. The setting was fresh and opulent and even included the burned out ruins of a palace, which is just a sort of setting I can’t get enough of. Yes, give me more ruins and ancient halls and places where people once walked but no more, no longer!

Overall, though, A Darkness Strange and Lovely was a middling read because for all it did well, it took two steps back in large part because of the way Eleanor’s agency was limited at every turn. There are scenes near the end of the book that especially strip away her agency, and while it was expected given the details set up earlier in the plot, it doesn’t make it any less disappointing to encounter.

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