To a Darker Shore

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Pub Date Apr 30 2024 | Archive Date May 30 2024

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When her best friend is sacrificed to the devil, she’ll go to hell and back for him

Plain, poor, plus-size, and autistic, Alesta grew up trying to convince her beauty-obsessed kingdom that she’s too useful to be sacrificed. Their god blessed their island Soladisa as a haven for his followers, but to keep the devil at bay, the church sends a child sacrifice to hell’s entrance every season—often poor or plain girls just like Alesta.

With a head full of ideas for inventions, Alesta knows her best shot at making it to adulthood is to design something impressive for the festival exhibition so she might win a spot in the university—acceptance could guarantee her safety. But Alesta’s flying machine demonstration goes awry, a failure that will surely mean death. What happens is worse: Her best friend and heir to the throne, Kyrian, takes the blame expecting leniency but ends up sacrificed in her place.

To stop the sacrifices forever, Alesta plans to kill the monster that killed her friend. Prepared to save her kingdom or die trying, she travels to the depths of hell only to find Kyrian—alive, but monstrously transformed.

There is no escaping hell or their growing feelings for one another, and the deeper they descend into hell, the closer they come to uncovering a truth about the sacrifices that threatens to invoke the wrath of not only monsters but the gods as well.

When her best friend is sacrificed to the devil, she’ll go to hell and back for him

Plain, poor, plus-size, and autistic, Alesta grew up trying to convince her beauty-obsessed kingdom that she’s too...

Advance Praise

“A love letter to the autistic kids who see the world differently: punished for trusting that life could be made kinder and made into devils for wanting better. We will love each other until that world loves us back, and Schwartz captures that beautifully.”–Andrew Joseph White, New York Times bestselling author of Hell Followed With Us

“To A Darker Shore is an intricate, epic tale crackling with hellfire and imagination. Within its pages are terrifying creatures; thoughtful examinations of ableism, beauty, and monstrosity; and the kind of love that transcends eternity—even death.”—Allison Saft, New York Times bestselling author of A Far Wilder Magic

“To A Darker Shore is a magical tale about defying the odds, with a gloriously fierce protagonist you'll be cheering for!”–Emily Thiede, author of This Vicious Grace and This Cursed Light

“This sublime, darkly romantic journey through the depths of hell completely swept me away. A must read.”–Alicia Jasinska, author of The Dark Tide and The Midnight Girls

“A nuanced reinterpretation of myth that also challenges current notions of beauty, classism, and faith. This is the kind of fantasy I yearned for in my teen years.”—Amparo Ortiz, author of Last Sunrise in Eterna

“Schwartz has done something miraculous. Her characters leap off the page, howling with righteous fury and grim determination. At turns gripping and profoundly tender-hearted, this is the rare book worth going to hell and back for.”—Christine Callela, author of The Final Curse of Ophelia Cray

“A love letter to the autistic kids who see the world differently: punished for trusting that life could be made kinder and made into devils for wanting better. We will love each other until that...

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ISBN 9781645678403
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Average rating from 26 members

Featured Reviews

To a Darker Shore is full to the brim of what I love in a book! It has well-developed characters, angst, mutual pining, critiques of religion, monsters, and poignant themes.

In Soladisa, either you’re virtuous and useful or you end up food for a monster. What keeps the island country safe is a deal struck long ago: each tithing, a sinful teenager is sacrificed to a horrible monster across the poison sea in hell. Seventeen-year-old Alesta—plain, poor, plus-sized, and autistic—is desperate for one of her inventions to be deemed worthy enough to keep her from being tithed. When her latest invention goes awry, Kyr (her best friend and the kingdom’s heir) takes the blame, hoping for leniency, only to be tithed in her place. Angry and grieving, Alesta travels to hell to end the sacrifices forever, only to find her friend monstrously transformed. As their feelings for each other grow, Alesta and Kyr race to escape hell and find the truth behind the tithes.

I thoroughly enjoyed following Alesta and Kyr’s story. Both of their POVs are engaging, and their fierce determination to protect one another will have readers eager for them to confess their feelings to each other. Schwartz’s descriptions have so much imagery, she raises the stakes incredibly well, and they skillfully tackle themes like self-acceptance and that one’s worth is not determined by their utility. If you’re looking for a YA fantasy that’s full of heart, I highly recommend To a Darker Shore!

Content warnings: light gore and body horror, some bullying/seizist body talk, conflict with a parent over asking autism (internalized but ultimately rejected by the main characters), societal/parental homophobia (with happy outcomes), claustrophobic panic attacks, implied suicidal ideation, illness, loss, and grief

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Thank you to Page Street for the arc!

Leanne Schwartz neatly follows her debut with another gorgeously written fantasy adventure. I loved A PRAYER FOR VENGEANCE and couldn't wait to get my hands on TO A DARKER SHORE. It delivers on all of its promises of friends-to-lovers, Hozier's Unreal Unearth, and autistic heroes. This book is SO fun and SO heartfelt, and as a fat person, seeing a fat protagonist literally means the world to me.

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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.

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A gorgeously written, deeply romantic YA fantasy with a strong autistic heroine who goes to hell and back to save her best friend and take on an unjust system--along with a lot of monsters! To A Darker Shore touches on a lot of heavy topics and addresses them well, while also being a beautiful and action-packed read. I've been looking forward to this Dante's Inferno-inspired novel for awhile and it did not disappoint!

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for the arc! Opinions are my own.

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I already knew it after I read A Prayer for Vengeance, but this book confirmed it: I'm a big fan of Leanne Schwartz's work. The author has a unique and imaginative way of mixing mythology with fantasy, creating worlds that feel both fresh and familiar.

To A Darker Shore is a lush book, with pacing and structure that don't always do what you expect them to do next, and I found this to be a very refreshing and immersive experience. I absolutely loved the autistic main characters, and the discussions of beauty standards, fat phobia, allonormativity and neurodivergence — for all its differences, the world of Soladisa is not so unlike ours, in the sense that people who look and behave differently will never be given the benefit of a doubt. This book does a great job of asking questions such as "who is the monster here" and actually giving succinct and unflinching answers.

But it's also a very fun and satisfying read (for all its dark and gory moments), and I would gladly return in this world for more. My only regret is that this book didn't exist when I was a fat, neurodivergent teenager — but I'm so happy that young readers today can have this kind of thoughtful and nuanced rep.

Note: there's a very satisfying amount of lesbians in this book, which only made it better in my eyes.

P.S. Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for gifting me a free e-book in exchange for an honest review.

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