*If you haven't read Abé's earlier Drakon books there will be mild spoilers in this review. Read on with that in mind.
Shana Abé moved her Drakon series to young adult and it's taken me time to catch up. While book two is stronger than book one (and neither is free of all the issues I had with her romance series) overall I prefer this take on her girls who turn to smoke and dragons. We left the Drakon rebuilding their ruined world in an attempt to curb extinction. In The Sweetest Dark that appears to have been a futile endeavor. Jumping forward to WW1, Abé focuses on a young orphan whisked away from London and into an exclusive boarding school. Here our Littlest Princess meets the requisite young lord and the silent groundskeeper.
Eleanore (Lora), Armand (Mandy) and Jesse begin an uneasy relationship (cue dramatic drum roll) destined to change all their lives! The Sweetest Dark is a languid read. It hits all the notes of the orphan amongst the privileged as it slowly acclimates readers to the world of the Drakon and the place these three hold within it. (The companion novel, The Deepest Night is a much more action driven read.) Abé has made multiple adjustments to the Drakon universe to fit the YA market. Both books hint at sexuality more than they explore it. Jesse is almost ridiculously understanding of Lora's age and Mandy's actions. If Jesse was black he'd be the book's Magical Negro as his primary purpose appears to be filling out the triangle and imparting wisdom. It's a shame that Abé leaves him underdeveloped as it's been a long time since a character perceived as mute has been a romantic lead. She has also toned down her Fated Mate fetish. While still drawn to characters who self describe as Alpha and whose actions are excused as beyond their rational reason, the relationships between Jesse, Mandy and Lora do not skirt the edge of abuse as found in Abé's romantic genre series.
Lora is largely passive for The Sweetest Dark. In The Deepest Night she is actively controlling her life. Where the flaw of the former is a lack of action the flaw of the latter might be an excess of it. Events happen at a rapid pace, with barely a breath between them. England is at war and Lora is ready to fight it. This is not a conflict with nuance. Lora is Team England. It's her or them and she consistently chooses them. The brief interactions she has with German soldiers give her no reason to examine if her actions are the right ones. She is the weapon. They are the target. I found the scenes behind enemy lines the weak point of the book. There is a point where Lora's lack of regard for her own life is meant to feel significant but (given her near suicidal state for much of our time together) seems only expedient. As well, this section of the book includes a quick introduction of a Gay Predator from Mandy's past. I'm incredibly tired of the only representation of a same sex attracted person being negative. The point this blink-and-you'll-miss-him stereotype makes could easily be presented through other means. It's a regrettable flaw in an overall excellent read.
While I tend not to respond to YA as a category, Abé has done an excellent job in taking the best parts of her romance series and molding them into a YA read with a powerful female lead. The characters read age appropriate overall. Late in The Deepest Night they seem matured beyond their years, but not their experiences. The reader is surprised to realize Lora has a year of schooling left to complete. Although the events of the war and her past make us ready to launch her fully into adulthood, the demands of the series require that she remain a schoolgirl. Depending on your tolerance for alcohol as a casual beverage this series could be read anywhere from fourth grade up. I'm looking forward to the next book.