Review: Dark and Deepest Red by Anna-Marie McLemore

(Last Updated On: October 29, 2020)

Two timelines, magical shoes, and a dancing plague. Dark and Deepest Red masterfully weaves together the strange history of the dancing plague in 1518 with Hans Anderson’s “The Red Shoes” for a powerful retelling about identity and self-acceptance.

About Dark and Deepest Red

Publisher: Feiwel & Friends  |  Release Date: January 14, 2020  |  Pages: 309
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Retelling  |  Format: Hardcover  |  Source: Purchased

cover for Dark and Deepest RedSummer, 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.

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My Review of Dark and Deepest Red

photo of Dark and Deepest Red on fairy lights✨ You can read an excerpt of Dark and Deepest Red here!

This book swept me away with its lush prose and nestled its way into my heart. Where it will undoubtedly live for some time. Dark and Deepest Red is a story about hiding from who society thinks you are and taking ownership of it.

“This is a city where the story they choose to believe about to depends on how well they think of you, and that story can shift as suddenly as the wink of those stars.”

There is something uniquely special about Anna-Marie McLemore’s lush and lyrical writing; it’s the perfect book to curl up with a warm drink and read when the weather cools down. Their words envelope you while reading, painting a picture so vivid in your mind. I found myself savoring the book ever so slowly because I didn’t want it to end.

“She looked out over the land, an ocean of blue to her left, one of yellow to her right, green stems and leaves undergirding each. They seemed painted, the blooms thick and stretching out toward the sky.. They seemed the kind of petal lakes that fairies would dance in the night, their small lights hovering over the blue and yellow.”

I’ll admit that I was a little confused and had no real clue what was going on for the first 60 pages or so, but was so captivated the confusion felt like a dream I wanted to see to the end. Dark and Deepest Red is best experienced rather than analytically read. This is a book you’ll need to be in the mood for, like The Wicked Deep and The Waking Forest. Everything weaves together beautifully in the end, but some readers may struggle with the time it takes to get there.

I love how McLemore blends a retelling of “The Red Shoes” with pieces of history via the dancing plague of 1518(Side note, I couldn’t get Shane Medej saying “little red shoes” out of my head while reading this lol) This is the kind of retelling that I adore: rooted in history and looking at potential sources of the fairy tale.

LGBTQIAP+ people existed in the 1500s and I especially appreciated the realistic portrayal of gender, race, and sexuality diversity of the times. That isn’t to say there isn’t transphobia or anti-same sex relationship rhetoric present, but that the rhetoric of the time period doesn’t erase the diversity present or the struggles of trying to pass for the accepted “majority” the characters have. McLemore managed to craft a story which embraced the reality of prejudice of the time while not succumbing to the sadness; I felt hopeful.

A review for Dark and Deepest Red wouldn’t be complete without me gushing about the amazing characters. Told in dual timelines separated by 500 years, there are three perspectives and four “main characters.” I was most invested in the 1518 timeline with Lala and Alifair, but came to adore Rosella and Emil as well. Alifair is a trans boy and each character is a POC dealing with their own racial discrimination. I do wish Alifair had a perspective as so much of his character is shrouded in mystery, but it definitely works for the story. The way the two timelines intertwined in the end was truly magical and brought tears to my eyes. I also appreciated the casual sex positivity depicted with consent and the reference female masturbation.

“This had been about a fever, a nightmare, a dance made into a curse. It was about women turning their own fears into their sharpest blades.”

If I’m being honest, I love Dark and Deepest Red the more I think about it: it’s a soft story of love and friendship with beautiful prose that creeps into your heart. The book is about passing and hiding from who you really are. About mob mentality and casting aspersions against those who are different. About taking ownership of who you are instead of being a victim to the thoughts of others. It’s a beautiful story of acceptance and love for who you are, and one that I’d love to see more of in fiction. Highly recommend this one, especially the audiobook!

✨ Reader Voracious patrons chose this book for my October TBR Control read! I read along with the read audiobook (currently on sale for $6.99 on LibroFM!), and the audiobook helped me stay focused on the story.

Representation: LGBTQIAP+ world, Latinx rep, Romani rep, trans rep,
Content warnings: anti-Romani rhetoric, near execution, racism, religious persecution, transphobia

Reader Voracious patrons get exclusive access to my reading vlog for Dark and Deepest Red others on Patreon!

Are you a fan of lyrical and lush prose? Have you read Dark and Deepest Red yet or is it on your TBR?

spacer_wLet’s go on another adventure together!


  1. Evelyn

    October 29, 2020 at 11:52 PM

    Great review! I really want to pick up anything from this author!


    1. Kal

      December 29, 2020 at 9:53 PM

      Thank you, Evelyn! I can see why people love Anna-Marie’s writing and can’t wait to read more from them soon!

  2. Shatarupa Dhar

    October 30, 2020 at 7:42 AM

    Wow! While I haven’t read that many retellings, I too love the one that try to find the source of fairytales…

    1. Kal

      December 29, 2020 at 9:53 PM

      I have such a soft spot for retellings, no idea why! But among my faves are the ones that search for the root of the story. I think you’d like this one!

  3. devouringbooks2017

    October 30, 2020 at 2:12 PM

    This is on my TBR so I’m so glad to see such a gushing review! Also I’m a big fan of the original fairytale. I actually read it the other day because I got a copy of Hans Christian anderson fairy tales for my birthday

    1. Kal

      December 29, 2020 at 9:55 PM

      Ahhh, Amanda you NEED to read this one as soon as you get a chance! I am so annoyed that I took literally a year to pick it up.

  4. Meaghan Haling

    October 30, 2020 at 7:36 PM

    I’ve REALLY got to get to this one! I got it as a gift a month or two ago, but I’ve fallen down on the job getting through my TBR, so it’s still waiting for me. Hearing that you loved it really encourages me to bump it up my list, though!

    1. Kal

      December 29, 2020 at 9:56 PM

      YES YOU DO, Meaghan! It was such an enjoyable story and I need more people to read it so I can gush about it. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

  5. Marie @ drizzle & hurricane books

    November 2, 2020 at 1:12 AM

    What a fantastic review, Kal, I can feel your love for this book so much here, it makes me so happy! I only read one book by McLemore so far and it was co-authored, it was Miss Meteor, and I LOVED it so much. I can’t wait to read more from this author and this one is high on my TBR now <3

    1. Kal

      December 29, 2020 at 10:07 PM

      You are so kind, thanks for your lovely words Marie! I heard so many good things about Miss Meteor, and it got nominated a bunch for the Bookish Jazz Awards, so I will have to check that one out!!!

  6. Jenna @ Falling Letters

    November 2, 2020 at 10:48 AM

    Glad you enjoyed this one so much! I’ve read and enjoyed all of McLemore’s book, but this one didn’t quite work for me. I think some of it was the dual timeline, and some of it was that the storyline is very similar to all their other books. But oh do I love their prose!

    1. Kal

      December 29, 2020 at 10:08 PM

      Ahhh, I’m sorry to hear that this one didn’t quite work for you, but I get it with the dual timeline because I struggled for the first third or so. But the prose is so beautiful, it was like a warm blanket. Which book of theirs would you recommend that I pick up next?

      1. Jenna @ Falling Letters

        December 30, 2020 at 9:32 AM

        When the Moon Was Ours was my first McLemore read and it’s still my favourite – I would recommend that or Wild Beauty 🙂 Miss Meteor, which they co-wrote with Tehlor Kay Mejia is also very good! More contemporary, less magical realism, though.

        1. Kal

          January 2, 2021 at 9:04 PM

          Thank you for the recommendations, checking out Wild Beauty and/or When the Moon was Ours from my library!

  7. Mary

    November 5, 2020 at 11:04 AM

    This review is just stunning. You managed to capture all of my feelings about this book that have just kind of been evading me for months. I, too, was confused in the beginning, but really enjoyed just sinking into the lush language and letting it carry me away. This was such a lovely book, and your review of it is spot on!

    1. Kal

      December 29, 2020 at 10:12 PM

      Wow, thank you so much for your compliments Mary! I’m glad I wasn’t the only one kinda lost and unsure in the beginning, but even more glad that the book and its stunning prose also won you over! Such a beautiful book, and I really look forward to reading more from this author in the future.

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