Book Review: Darkest Rose
Reviewed by Andrea Marks-Joseph
Romeo and Juliet meets murderous werewolves and elven magick.
Darkest Rose begins with an unmistakable Romeo and Juliet meeting: in the royal garden, two teenagers who are escaping family parties feel a spark of attraction and introduce themselves without surnames so as not to reveal that they’re from a rival family.
“Ella waved her hand and the rose bush parted, revealing a wooden frame wrecked of age. Edmund stood still. ‘Get in now!’ she bellowed. He walked in. ‘You have magick?’”
Ella is already betrothed to a duke as part of a royal alliance; Edmund really shouldn’t be on the enemy’s property, let alone falling for someone he’s not allowed to speak to. Behind the cloak of roses, he offers her a dance, knowing it’s forbidden.
Ella accepts, feeling rebellious, taken in by the playful sparkle in Edmund’s eye. The quiet, romantic moment between them feels charmed —“As her emotions heightened, the roses around began budding”—and Ella is left with the sense that this wasn’t the first time she’d been in Edmund’s embrace. But how could that be?
On the surface, this is a story of young lovers fighting royal expectations. In actuality, what unfolds is a tale of past lives and kingdoms far away. There is an underbelly of Norse gods manipulating humans, prophecies come true, deadly curses unbroken, elven blood spilled in rivers, and mysterious men with the power to freeze time and jump realms.
Both Ella and Edmund discover that they’ve been lied to for their entire lives, and we as readers are privy to even more deception as the story reveals itself. The way they grow into their own and harness their natural powers is an empowering and intriguing journey complete with high stakes and strange magick that makes it thrilling to read. There are so many twists and turns to the secrets that have been kept from the two that, despite being a retelling of sorts—or perhaps because it’s a retelling of so many sorts—Darkest Rose is highly unpredictable in every way and such a fun reading experience.
The teenagers are on separate paths of discovery, but they are tied to each other in ways beyond their understanding. “Be safe, Edmund,” he is warned, “because if you aren’t, the one who led you and your lover to your death in your past life will repeat his actions again. It will not only lead to another tragedy but to something greater this time.” A great, emotional devastation took place twenty years ago. Someone vicious—perhaps human, perhaps not—orchestrated the death of two young lovers. That someone has set their murderous eyes on Ella and Edmund next.
But so much unfolds in the process that it’s impossible to look away: We learn of a life-saving gemstone that has disappeared, overhear conversations between parents and palace staff who have been dishonest for decades, and witness bloody murders by werewolves. The mythology of Darkest Rose has inherited magic and resurrected kings. Ella and Edmund are products of a revenge plan delayed until two soulmates reunite in a different realm.
This illusive young adult novel is filled with mystical and magical creatures: The trickster god Loki plays an integral role in keeping dangerous secrets hidden; Edmund meets a selkie who keeps him alive underwater, then witnesses a half-man-half-wolf devour a woman; Ella uses elven dreamcatcher magic to enter someone else’s dream.
By incorporating palace politics and deity shadows, author Vera Morgana has put a fresh, compelling, magical spin on my favorite parts of Romeo & Juliet, Norse Mythology, and Little Red Riding Hood. The familiar beats and easy-to-follow dialogue makes Darkest Rose a great gift for a reluctant or new reader who enjoyed these tales at school—especially if they’re into fantasy worlds, too.
Genre: Young Adult / Fantasy / Romance
Print Length: 344 pages
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