What can I say about Leanna Renee Hieber’s The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker? I could say that it’s elegantly written, with vivid prose that somehow reminds me of The Secret Garden. One could say that comparison is caused merely by the book’s setting in the Victorian era – but I remain convinced that it’s really the prose. Ms. Hieber evokes the setting not only with her descriptions but with her voice and choice of words – which, to my mind, is a sign of a remarkable author. While reading this book, I could almost have sworn that I was back in my Advanced English class, pounding my brain against the many metaphors of Dostoyevsky, Dickens, Kafka or Shakespeare.
Except that none of the above (with the exception of the great Bard himself) managed to capture my attention the way that Percy Parker did. I admit that it was slow going at first. The first 85 pages or so reminded me far too much of that English class, and contained less ghostly action than I would have liked. Also, Percy is like many a teenager – despite her era – and her angsty “Woe is me, I am so ghostly” mantra really grated my nerves. (This, however, is a sure sign that the author has managed to pen a realistic teen point of view, as explained in this review over here. Truly, it is a mark in the author’s favor when a teen character annoys me.) By contrast, once I hit that one-third mark into the book, everything started to roll and I read straight through to the climax in a single evening. Or, early morning, as the case may be.
As for the story, let me sum up. Miss Percy Parker is an eighteen year old girl who’s been raised in a convent. Her mother died and left her with a phoenix pendant and no memories of her. Her only friends have been the ghosts that she can see and speak with. Most live humans who see her believe she is a ghost herself ; she looks as if all the color had been bled from her hair, skin, and eyes. She is accustomed to the fear of those she meets, so her habit is to don gloves, scarf, and dark glasses.
Percy arrives at the start of the book for her first semester at Athens Academy in London, right smack in the middle of the Ripper’s reign of terror. Something about the murders has stirred up the ghostly population of London, and there recently have been many malicious hauntings. These hauntings are combated by a mysterious group of men and women who call themselves the Guard. These six men and women had been possessed by beings of great power at a young age, and tasked with the fulfillment of a prophecy. The Guard have also been long-awaiting their missing seventh member. Except that just when they think they have found her, they realize they have two candidates!
To say more here would spoil the fun, but suffice it to say that it is a delightful tale of trust, betrayal, friendships, and ghostly hauntings. Had I known that this story was so intertwined with the ancient mythology of Persephone and her descent into Hades, I would have made more of an effort to finish sooner. I should have realized it was more than a passing acquaintance, however, when it is said that Percy is not the character’s full given name…
I admit that much of my opinion is affected by the unique take on the old mythology that I’ve loved for decades. I do not begrudge the liberties Ms. Hieber has taken with the story; and I recommend that you shouldn’t either. Some of my affection for the story and the author also lies in the fact that she hails, originally, from my neck of the woods in Southwestern Ohio. I don’t believe I’m too biased, but draw your own conclusions.
On the other hand, I do remain a bit skeptical as to the pace with which Percy’s romance with her mathematics teacher, Alexi, developed. I am, however, always a cynic in that aspect and as such will keep my skepticism mostly to myself. This was not the rollicking, rough and tumble world of the urban fantasy I’ve been reading lately. No, if those books are like whiskey straight from the bottle, then Percy Parker is sipping chardonnay from crystal glasses at a dinner party. I feel smarter for having read it, and I wouldn’t be terribly surprised to see this title listed on required reading lists in some distant future. If you want an intelligent, entertaining read – then may I suggest you run right out and pick up your copy now?
[xrr rating=4/5 imageset=tiny_star]