When it comes to magical realism, author Anna-Marie McLemore is a master. Her young adult novels The Weight of Feathers, Blanca & Roja, and Wild Beauty beautifully explore themes of family, love, queerness, and culture. She writes sweeping tales about complicated curses, dark legacies, and enthralling romance. And her streak isn't over yet: On Jan. 14, 2020, McLemore is releasing Dark and Deepest Red, a retelling of Hans Christian Andersen's The Red Shoes. Bustle has an exclusive first look at the book below!
Dark and Deepest Red opens in the summer of 1518, when a strange sickness sweeps through Strasbourg: Women dance in the streets, some until they fall down dead. Rumors of witchcraft spread, and suspicion turns toward Lavinia's family. In order to save everyone she loves, she may be forced to do the unimaginable.
Five centuries later, a pair of red shoes seal to Rosella Oliva’s feet, forcing her to dance uncontrollably. They draw her toward a boy who knows the history of the dancing fever better than anyone: Emil, whose family was blamed for the sickness all those centuries ago. But there’s more to what happened in 1518 than Emil knows, and Rosella needs the truth to survive.
Dark and Deepest Red pairs forbidding fairytale magic with a modern story of passion and betrayal — all wrapped up in her signature lush prose. See below to take a peek at the book's gorgeous cover, and read on for an excerpt that is sure to have you hooked from the very first line:
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. Half for the wavering light that hovered above the water, and half 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.
"My mother told me once that being an Oliva meant measuring our lives in lengths of red thread. And probably, that was true."
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.
"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."
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.