08 November 2011

(ARC) YA Book Review: Darker Still by Leanna Renee Hieber

Release Date: 8 November 2011
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Goodreads description:
New York City, 1882. Seventeen-year-old Natalie Stewart's latest obsession is a painting of the handsome British Lord Denbury. Something in his striking blue eyes calls to her. As his incredibly life-like gaze seems to follow her, Natalie gets the uneasy feeling that details of the painting keep changing...

Jonathan Denbury's soul is trapped in the gilded painting by dark magic while his possessed body commits unspeakable crimes in the city slums. He must lure Natalie into the painting, for only together can they reverse the curse and free his damaged soul..
My Thoughts...

I loved this book.  It's the kind of read that kept me up late reading and sneaking in pages here and there at work (shhh....).  I found the writing and the story incredibly compelling. The characters were unique, the story appropriately creepy, and the setting absolutely perfect.

Let's start with the setting and atmosphere.  Darker Still is set in Victorian New York (1880s).  The gritty, dark parts of the city of contrasted against the opulence of the wealthy, flashier parts of town.  It's a world where social status still reigns and wealth is openly flaunted through architecture and fashion.  What I loved in Darker Still was that we got to see all sides of society--from Maggie and her high-fashion friends to Natalie and her father's modest living to the dark alleys of The Five Points. I felt like I had stepped into a real world, something I must attribute to Ms. Hieber's stellar writing.

Natalie was a really awesome MC to read about.  To start with, she's MUTE. How many MCs have you read about who are mute?  I thought it was really interesting to have a main character who struggled to communicate with the world around her.  It made everything that she learned and did just a little more amazing.  It also makes so much sense when you learn *things* later in the book. It also ensured that she wasn't some flaky chick, but instead, she was a tough, intelligent young woman who wasn't afraid to stand up for herself.
"I am not deaf and most certainly not dumb!"
Lord Denbury was an enigma all unto himself.  He has some of the same characteristics as our favorite typical male love interests (well, primarily that he is extremely gorgeous), but he's (a) not a "bad" boy and (b) trapped in a painting! I adored watching him interact with Natalie because he gave her a sort of confidence in herself and encouraged her to find her voice and be brave.  She was already a strong young woman, but he really seemed to encourage her to...expand her horizons (I'm not really sure that's the turn of phrase I'm looking for, but you get the idea, right?).  Also, I liked Denbury (or Jonathan, as he asks me Natalie to call him) in his own right.  He handles the whole "I'm trapped in a painting" with fairly minimal whining (which would have drove me crazy) and he actively tries to help Natalie find a solution to his predicament.

This story is told (mostly) from the POV of Natalie as she record events in her diary, a perspective that I felt really worked.  It allows you to really get into her head at times.  The perspective may seem a bit improbable at times because the diary entries are a bit more detailed than most of us would ever remember in real life, but for me, it simply added to the notion that Natalie has a good head on her shoulders.  Her quick-thinking, highly observant nature comes to the forefront in her personalized diary entries in a way that may not have been clear written in any other way.

One thing that really caught my eye about this novel was that while it was set in Victorian New York, it had a very contemporary feel--and I'm not entirely sure how I feel about this fact yet.  The customs and manners of the Victorian age are prominently displayed throughout the novel but not in an overbearing sort of way.  Even as I reached the end of the novel, I had the sense that the story was rather timeless.  It could have easily been a contemporary fantasy type of read, as Ms. Hieber tackles many issues relevant to both the past and the present, including disability, class, and gender.  She looks at these issues through a Victorian lens but not in a manner that in any way disconnects the reader from the more present-day meanings.  At times I did find myself wishing that I felt more immersed in the setting...so take that as you will.

While Darker Still isn't a fast-paced novel, the beautiful prose and intriguing storyline kept me turning the pages. I think what it may lack for some readers is a stronger sense of mystery and impending doom since you know who the bad guy is from the beginning and the only mystery is to solve the few clues (which comes together in a rather unexciting way).  However, for the reader looking to dive into a well-written story of Gothic romance and intrigue, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this one.


Alexandralanc said...

Tres creepy sounding, but also very interesting. Thanks for the review! I will have to check it out. :)


Molli said...

Judging from the things you pointed out about the novel, we have similiar tastes, so I really hope that I like this.  You highlighted some things no one reviewer so far (that I've seen) has, so now I'm even MORE excited for this book.

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