To a Darker Shore (ARC Review)

Book Title: To a Darker Shore
Author: Leanne Schwartz
Release Date: April 30, 2024
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, Neurodiversity, Queer
My rating: 5/5 Stars


A da Vinci-esque teen girl inventor on a Dante-esque journey through hell to save her best friend.

Plain, poor, plus-size, and autistic, Alesta grew up trying to convince her kingdom that she’s too useful to be sacrificed like so many of their country’s poor to appease the infernal monster across the poison sea in hell.

When Alesta’s attempt to prove herself with inventions goes awry, her best friend and heir to the throne, Kyrian, takes the blame expecting leniency―and ends up tithed in her place.

To end the sacrifices forever, Alesta plans to kill the monster that killed her friend. She travels to the depths of hell only to find Kyrian, alive, but monstrously transformed.

There’s no escaping hell or their deeper feelings for one another, and the farther they go, the closer they come to uncovering a truth about the tithings that threatens to invoke the wrath of not only monsters but the gods as well.

My Review:

When I heard To a Darker Shore be pitched as “Hadestown meets Dante’s Inferno” with autistic MC’s, I knew immediately that I needed to read this book. Hadestown is one of my favorite musicals, and most of you know I’m always searching for more autism rep, so this book was basically made for me. Having loved Leanne Schwartz’s previous book, A Prayer for Vengeance, I was sure this book would not disappoint, and I’m happy to report that I was correct! From the moment I started reading, I was captivated by Alesta and Kyr, their dynamic, and the world they lived in.

Alesta and Kyr were two of the most compelling MCs I’ve read about in a while. Alesta was headstrong, intelligent, and full of vigor, while Kyr was more on the introverted side, but just as passionate. I don’t want to say too much about him specially, because his character arc from beginning to end was truly excellent, and you should discover that for yourself. He went through so much in this story, and I felt every emotional up and down with him.

Because Alesta and Kyr both felt out of place in their lives, they were drawn to each other. Their strong friendship and close bond is the heart of this story, and watching them come to terms with their feelings and grow with each other was quite the roller coaster. I loved that we got both of their perspectives because it definitely enhanced the story. I don’t think the book would’ve been as emotionally impactful if we didn’t have both sides. But because we did, I was able to connect with both characters on a deeper level. And while allistic people may not realize this, it highlighted a lot of the struggles autistic people face when it comes to social cues and reading others. Alesta and Kyr were constantly misunderstanding the other’s intentions when going off body language alone, and I thought this was a really subtle but impactful way of representing autism.

A lot of times in media, autistic traits are exaggerated, mostly for the benefit of neurotypical people, but I didn’t feel that was the case at all for this book, and I loved that. Alesta and Kyr were both autistic, but many of their traits and mannerisms were very different from the other’s, and in fact, in many cases, their traits were the exact opposite. This was fantastic, because it showed just how varied the spectrum can be and why it’s called a spectrum in the first place. Personally, I related a lot with Kyr, but I also sometimes found myself reflected in Alesta, too. The fact that I’m seeing myself represented more and more these days is something I still can’t quite believe, and I’m just so thankful these books exist.

Not only were Alesta and Kyr well-rounded characters, but all of the side characters were too. They stood out and added to the plot while still being their own people, which I always love to see. And speaking of plot, I loved it!! There were a few plot twists I figured out, which I was super proud of, but others took me by total surprise. The last twenty percent of the book was impossible to put down because of all the tension.

I’m so glad I had the opportunity to read To a Darker Shore. I hope lots of people will pick this book up, because it deserves to be read.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with a digital ARC in exchange for my honest opinion.

Order it at: Amazon Barnes and Noble 

Check out my last blog post: Teach the Torches to Burn (ARC Review)

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