I first heard about Darker Still by Leanne Renee Hieber at BEA (Book Expo America) back in May of this year, which incidentally seems like a life time ago, after a friend showed me the incredibly beautiful cover. I read the synopsis and my interest was sparked - I HAD to read this. Unfortunately, all the review copies were gone but I got the opportunity to meet the wonderful Ms Hieber who as it turns out is basically more British than I am! She was born in Ohio LOL.
Thankfully, an extremely nice publicist at Source Books sent me a copy and I devoured it over the course of a couple of days. With nods to Dorian Gray and possibly influenced by Roald Dahl’s The Witches and Harry Potter with their living paintings, Darker Still is a wonderfully gothic tale set in Victorian New York and although I haven’t read a historical novel in quite some time, I absolutely loved it. Here’s the synopsis:
“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.”
Although she is the also the author of the “Strangely Beautiful” series, this is the first novel I have read by Leanna and I have to admit to being suitably impressed. The style of language is on the whole authentic and I enjoyed the plot immensely. I have to say that New York is one of my favourite US cities and one that I’ve had the fortune of visiting on a number of occasions. It was wonderful to imagine the bright lights of New York dimmed down to reflect times of olde and I enjoyed reading a Victorian novel, set in another country other than London. Funnily enough, sometimes I forgot it was set in New York, I think because Lord Denbury hails from England. The Victorian era is a PERFECT setting for a story dripping in dark magic. I have to admit that it got a little creepy at times, but not enough for me to want to stop reading!
Natalie is of course the heroine of the story and although she cannot speak, she is a strong, intelligent young woman who does a lot of listening and keeps a lot of secrets. The story is told through diary entries with the occasional letter and newspaper article and this is a format that I haven’t seen in a long time. I actually thought that it was EXTREMELY clever of Leanna to have Natalie tell her tale in the form of Diary entries. This might seem obvious (as she cannot speak) but it’s not really something I had considered before I read the book. I have to say that I really enjoyed the idea that Natalie is looked on as the one to save Jonathan (GIRL POWER!!) and perhaps to the outside world she seems like an unlikely heroine but we know better ;)
I don’t really have a lot to say about Jonathan other than he is a dashing young gentleman and the equivalent of the beautiful girl who needs to be rescued....only he’s a guy. He just so happens to be a doctor and ordinarily that might make me swoon but I’m a nurse and I know the reality so doctor’s don’t have that effect on my anymore sadly. He seems like a nice guy who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Unlucky. On the flip side however, it’s LUCKY for him that Natalie comes along at the right time as she is the only one who has any hope of saving him.
Darker Still definitely works as a standalone and whilst I know this book is part of the “Murder Most Foul” saga, I’m not sure if any of the stories are connected or not. If you’re looking for a story that is a bit different from the norm but is still hugely entertaining, then I would definitely recommend this book. Let yourself travel back in time and experience the gothic delights of Darker Still.
Darker Still is released on 1st November, 2011. There is no news about a UK release as of yet but you can get it from online book sellers. To find out more about Leanna and her books, click here to visit the website. She is also active on Facebook and Twitter.