Book Reviews

Review: Dark and Deepest Red by Anna-Marie McLemore

Anna-Marie McLemore has to be one of my favorite authors period. Talk about spectacularly creative fantasy settings. Characters that will leave lasting memories. Dark and Deepest Red is a queer retelling of The Red Shoes.


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.


(Disclaimer: I received this book from Edelweiss. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)

I love how McLemore is always like, “how can I make this more queer?” Dark and Deepest Red is no different. Featuring a Romani girl and a trans boy, McLemore tells a story about love, prejudice, and self-acceptance. Dark and Deepest Red is a story about the blood of fairy tales. The crimson shades of sacrifice. And the bright red of desires society tells us to hide in the dark. I didn’t devour Dark and Deepest Red as quickly as I have all of McLemore’s other books because of the quick narrative and time changes.

Dark and Deepest Red is told from two different time periods and three main narrators, Emil, Lala, and Rosella. It’s a story that proves you can never cover up the past. The actions of our ancestors always catch up to us sooner or later. These changes were harder for me to wrap my head around because at the beginning I wasn’t sure the overlap. As the book progresses you begin to see who these narrators are and the way their perspectives mirror each other.

Love and Thorns

Your heart breaks at the ways these characters have to hide their culture. No matter what time period, McLemore emphasizes not only the way we have to hide ourselves from the prejudice around us, but the ways we erase ourselves as protection. When the things we love, the things that we hold precious, have been broken time and time again by hatred and cruelty, we stop repairing them. We begin to destroy things ourselves so that we don’t feel the pain of having it ripped away.

The only way to survive becomes an attempt to blend in. To bleed ourselves of color. Protection comes in the form of popularity. Being so beloved we are free of blame. Untouchable. What’s more, I adored how in Dark and Deepest Red, McLemore examines the power of self-acceptance. It’s an act of freedom. A moment when we can look at ourselves for who we see in the mirror. At the same time, self-acceptance is a revolutionary act. It’s a way of twisting what people deem to be terrifying. To own what others fear. Knowing denial gets us nowhere.


Just like women are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. If they deny the accusations, if they defend themselves, while also being looked down upon if they accept. We cannot ever escape the judgement. Dark and Deepest Red is a journey of self-acceptance and desire. It’s gorgeously written as always, full of words that make your heart soar and emotional moments that break your heart. Find Dark and Deepest Red on Goodreads, Amazon, Indiebound & The Book Depository.


What is your favorite queer retelling?

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