Talking about DARK AND DEEPEST RED by Anna-Marie McLemore...and my love for THE RED SHOES!

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What are some of your favorite fairy tales? For me, one of my favorites has always been the Hans Christian Andersen tale The Red Shoes. It's a darker, grislier tale, not a nice fluffy one easy for Disney to adapt, and so a lot of people aren't familiar with it despite all the puns and depictions they might have seen in passing when watching movies and TV shows. There is a lovely Oscar winning adaptation from 1948 that can be purchased from the prestigious Criterion Collection, which I enjoy watching on occasion.

When I found out that Anna-Marie McLemore, whose work I've soaked up in the past, had written an adaptation entitled DARK AND DEEPEST RED, was inspired by The Red Shoes, which I've never seen retold in a novel before, I was so intrigued and knew I had to own it IMMEDIATELY.

I bought it when it came out in January, and only have time to fit it in my schedule now. I had hoped to have a review for you today to celebrate the Macmillan Fierce Reads FRTBR launch this week, where we can help promote the Fierce Reads titles we love each week, with rotating titles, but I haven't been reading much, and am only 60 pages in. So instead, I want to talk about what I like so far, and why it's already a brilliant new tale full of originality, while still retaining elements of the original source.

First, the prose. This isn't my first time reading McLemore, and it's far from the last. I had forgotten just how much I enjoyed her writing until I sat down with DARK AND DEEPEST RED and got sucked in on page one. Yes, page one. I mean, look at this opening:

  MY MOTHER TOLD ME ONCE that being an Oliva meant measuring our lives in lengths of red thread. And probably, that was true.
  But growing up in Briar Meadow meant I measured mine by the glimmer that appeared over the reservoir every year.
  That was what they called the strangeness that settled onto our town for a week each October, a glimmer. Both for the wavering light that hovered above the water, and because it seemed like the right word for the flicker of magic that came with it.
  One year, the glimmer stirred the air between  neighbors who hated each other. Families who'd become enemies over fence lines and tree roots suddenly burst into each other's kitchens, trading long-secret recipes for tomato sauce or spice cookies. 
  Another year, it was icicles that tasted like rose candies. My mother and I ate them all week, licking them like paletas, and tried to save some in our freezer. When the glimmer left at the end of the week, we found them vanished from between the frozen peas and waffles, and managed to be surprised. (My abuela called us fools for thinking we could hold on to Briar Meadow's magic any longer than the glimmer let us.)
  And once, it was the thorns on the trees and bushes around town. They grew so fast even I could sit still long enough to watch them. The wood twisted into shapes, some simple as a corkscrew curl, others intricate as the figurine of a deer, others as sharp as little knives. Sometimes we woke up to find blood dripping down the points, and we couldn't be sure if someone had pricked their fingers, or if the thorns themselves were bleeding. 
  And maybe my mother was right about measuring our lives in red thread, because those drops of blood looked, to me, like the beads on the most beautiful shoes my family made. Red shoes, the kind everyone knew us for.
  They bought other colors, of course, but it was the red ones that carried the whisper of a magic not so different from the glimmer. Our red shoes bore the hint of something forbidden and a little scandalous. Parents bought them for anxious brides, who then kissed their grooms with enough passion to make the wedding guests blush. Women had pairs made for class reunions, strutting into the tinsel-draped auditorium like queens. Husbands gave them to their wives before trips meant to celebrate twenty- or thirty-year anniversaries, and the couple always came back with their eyes glinting, as though they'd just met.
  Well-crafted seams and delicate beading gave my family a trade and a living. But red shoes gave us a name. They made us infamous. They made us brazen.
  Until they came for us.
  Except that's not quite true.
  They didn't come for us.
  They came for me.

(pgs. 1-2, US hardcover edition)

Doesn't that just suck you in immediately? I was dropping lines onto my Goodreads Now Reading Status Bar (Go ahead and friend me so you can catch more tidbits as I read this -- and other great books! Just make sure you leave a little comment of some sort so I know you aren't a bot! ^.~) from the first page, which is unusual for me.

A sneak peek at today's upcoming Instagram post!

I loved the atmosphere from the first sentence. The first chapter immediately had the cadence of the Beau Rivage duology by Sarah Cross (Check out my reviews of KILL ME SOFTLY and TEAR YOU APART to discover these hidden gems for yourself!) And the description of the town's glimmer has the whimsy that made me fall in love with GARDEN SPELLS by Sarah Addison Allen. Plus, there was already a hint of the tale to come. I love the seamless blend of magic realism and reality, the way it feels both like a time long past and something tangible that could happen now.

The book itself cuts between the past and the present, telling two different tales that have yet to come together as I'm reading. BUT I just got to the part where the original fairy tale is beginning to come into the story. In the past, women are mysteriously dancing in the street and the first one just danced herself to death. In the present, Rosella Oliva, who narrates the above chapter, has just been caught up in the horrors of what her shoes are capable of:

  But the red shoes drove my steps. 
  They prodded me forward. 
  The force of them pinched and tore, taking my breath so I couldn't scream. 
  In a sudden rush, they dragged me past trees and stones, my feet tripping over roots. They whirled me through the night, their pull as strong as fingers on my ankles. 
  They were making me dance. 
  No matter how hard I tried to keep still, I danced.
  Even when I threw my body to the ground, the shoes made my feet kick out from me. When I knelt, trying to keep the soles of my feet from touching the undergrowth, the shoes twisted me around. They made me dance on the air as though it were solid as ice."

(pgs. 59-60, US hardcover edition)

To go from a chapter where possessed dancing women are being watched in horror, to dropping into a chapter where we are immediately alongside one who is suddenly possessed and experiencing the horror firsthand really pulls readers into the action and has us alongside Rosella in her terror, especially due to the way McLemore structures the moment and it brings it to life.

I love how original this story is, yet how it is pulling from the most important aspects of the tale that inspired it. I'm fully invested in this world and would recommend it to any other fairy tale lovers out there. I can't wait to come back later this year with a full review and more coherent thoughts to share!


O F F I C I A L   I N F O:

Author: Anna-Marie McLemore
Release Date: Jan. 14, 2020
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends // Macmillan
Received: Purchased
(Reading now as part of the FRtbr initiative,
but all thoughts are my own and I was given nothing in exchange for this post.)


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.

With 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.