Review: Darker Still by Leanna Renee Hieber

A Novel of Magic Most FoulDarker Still is a paranormal young adult novel published on November 8th, 2011 from Sourcebooks Fire. It is the first entry in the new Magic Most Foul series.

The Blurb

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.

My Review

Leanna is careful to use authentic Victorian vernacular in her novels, and this book is no different. The rhythm and poetry of the language is almost like meditation: it forces you to slow down and breathe and savor. That’s what I like so much about her work – even when there’s a killer on a rampage, there’s a tranquility to it that somehow serves to heighten the tension even more than if the pace were frantic instead. To give an era-appropriate example, it’s a technique that Poe used well and it’s similarly effective here.

If I could ask the author one question, though, I would want to know why Natalie needed to be a mute. Maybe that’s a factor that comes to play more of a role in the sequels, but our heroine’s background at a Victorian-era “school for the deaf” is mentioned several times but seems not to make much of an impact on the story line itself. (Natalie struggles, but is able to talk eventually when she needs to.) It’s not that I don’t like to see diversity in my reading (I do). It’s more that I’d like my diversity to have a purpose rather than be a “token”. I honestly don’t think Leanna has put this in as a token gesture, though. I just don’t understand her motivation yet.

I will say, though, that if the only purpose was to give Natalie another tie to Denbury and his painting (she can talk there but not in the real world), then that’s kind of weak. It works, but it’s a poor psychological trick to play on a supposedly strong female protagonist. On the other hand, she’s a teenager. Natalie does have more sense than some recently-in-the-news female protagonists inhabiting YA novels (who will remain nameless). So there is that. It’s always a good sign with a YA when I have to stop and remind myself that the characters’ motivations annoy me because they’re being written effectively as teenagers.

In short, Leanna has me hooked. As usual. If you’re a YA or paranormal (or both) fan, then you can do worse than spend an evening or two reading Darker Still.

 

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