Monday, October 31, 2011

Review: Darker Still by Leanna Renee Hieber

The Picture of Dorian Gray meets Pride and Prejudice, with a dash of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

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. (summary from Goodreads)

Step into a world of magic, demons and souls of handsome lords stuck inside paintings! An interesting read, Darker Still offers something a little different, even though it wasn't everything I'd hoped it would be.

Natalie Stewart witnessed her mother's death at just 4 years of age and hasn't spoken a word since. Now 17 and graduated from school, her father, a curator for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, arranges for her to have an apprenticeship. Natalie's first acquisition? The supposedly haunted portrait of Lord Denbury, who apparently drowned himself at only 18. Natalie is more than just drawn to the portrait...it is trying to communicate with her. With the help of spiritualist and new owner of the portrait, Mrs. Northe, Natalie is determined to solve the mystery of Jonathan Whitby and save his soul. In doing so she will come face to face with both the devil and true love.

Darker Still begins with a report from an NYPD officer relating that the following diary is evidence of the unsolved missing persons case of one Natalie Stewart. As such, the book is pretty much entirely told through the diary entries of our main character. Other than a quick eye raise at the report and a joking grumble over the 'spoiler', I must say I was intrigued. I had been immediately drawn to Darker Still's cover and summary, and my initial thought regarding how Hieber had chosen to tell the story was much the same. It lost some of that appeal by the end, however. I liked the insight the entries gave to Natalie herself, especially in regards to her being mute, but such diary entries simply weren't able to sustain the tension and suspense that I think Heiber may have wanted. She did try, through Natalie's seemingly taking the diary everywhere with her and writing in it every chance she could, to give it more of a sense of immediacy. However I just couldn't help but be skeptical of some of the times Natalie wrote her entries - like when she's held captive in a dark carriage, for instance! So at times the story felt weighted down and a little slow.

Don't take any of the above as a reflection of Natalie as a character however, because I really, truly like Natalie, and Darker Still may have worked a lot less well if she wasn't who she is or the one providing the story point of view. Natalie is a strong character, mostly sure of herself and grateful for the life she has. I knew I'd like her from the moment she alluded to some of the mischief and pranks she got up to in school! I was surprised at the lack of bitterness and anger she felt regarding her situation. Sure, sometimes she felt out of place due to her being mute, but mostly she accepted it and proved herself despite it. Such moments and feelings though can be attributed to any teenager trying to find their place in the world, so the book was more compelling to me because Natalie never did really lose herself in major self-pity. I simply couldn't help but be charmed by Natalie overall!

Darker Still is a mix of supernatural, religious, and romance themes. The latter, between Natalie and Denbury, was a little too easy and 'insta', but their interactions were cute and funny, as well as somewhat awkward as a product of their time. So, for the most part, I could get over any issues I had with the lack of development. I do look forward to learning more about each of them - especially as a couple. What kept me reading though was the supernatural elements surrounding Denbury and the demon. The links to so many religious and spiritual mythology was interesting, and the hunt for answers kept the pace moving towards the end. Hieber has only just cracked the surface of the dark going ons of an unnamed 'society' and the intrigue of that alone is enough to have me wanting to read the next book in the series.

Overall, Darker Still wasn't everything I thought it might be at first and at times it plodded along at a pace that I had to push through, but some of it's themes were engaging and just different enough to still make is an enjoyable read.

Rating:

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Published date: 8 November 2011
Pages: 320

Many thanks to Sourcebooks and NetGalley.

Challenge: 2011 Debut YA Author Challenge;

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