Reviewed by Vanessa Rodriguez
Dark and Deepest Red is a young adult magical realism novel by Latinx LGBTQ+ author, Anne-Marie McLemore. This reimagining of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Red Shoes” is written in multiple POVs, including a young woman in sixteenth century Strasbourg, France, and draws on several accounts in history of a dancing plague that afflicted hundreds.
Opening in current day, every year the glimmer, a wavering of lights and magical strangeness, settles over the small town of Briar Meadow, home to two of the main characters, Rosella Olivas and Emil Woodlock. Rosella’s family is known for their shoemaking, especially the red shoes they handcraft that seem to have a magical quality to them that make the wearer more confident or blessed with good luck. Emil is of Roma descent (www.diversitystyleguide.com/glossary/roma-romany-romani/ ) and because of the negative connotations associated with his culture, he prefers to ignore his family’s history so he doesn’t accidentally disclose who they are in this small town where their brown skin already (causes) suspicious glances. He connects with Rosella because her own brown skin and culture feels familiar.
This year the glimmer has brought a new magic that seems to enchant Rosella’s family’s red shoes. These shoes are brought out of closets and storage and as most in Briar Meadow put them on, it’s as if everyone is falling in love or making grand gestures left and right. Rosella even puts on a pair she has made. They send her dancing every night and into the arms of Emil, who’s had a crush on her for years now. But there’s something dangerous about Rosella’s red shoes—against her will, they drag her into situations that almost cost her her life. Worse, they can’t be removed. And the only one who may be able to help her is Emil and his past.
The POV of Lavinia Blau intercuts the modern day storyline with her experiences in 1518 as someone who’s escaped persecution with her aunt for being Roma. They take residence in Strasbourg, hoping to pass as Italian with their bronzed skin. They house an orphaned boy named Alifair who Lavinia later falls in love with. But when a fever hits the city, causing hundreds to dance until they drop dead, the clergy look to blame Lavinia and her aunt as witches.
The prose is absolutely beautiful with fine details that make the atmosphere come alive and an enthralling storyline that keeps the pace moving along. So much history of Strasbourg is packed into Lavinia’s POV that it’s obvious the amount of research done by the author. And within line of #ownvoice representation, the story hints toward a transgender character as well as same-sex couples who had to hide their relationships in fear of what the law would do to them during this time period where cutting off limbs (was) punishment.
I did find the changing POVs bothersome at times when switching between Rosella and Emil versus Lavinia. Not only did they change between first and third person POVs but there was also a change in tense—back and forth between past and present. Despite that, I do think McLemore was able to tie in the POVs at the end along with the loose ends of the storyline leaving the reader with a satisfying and captivating read.