Saturday, 7 January 2012

The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker by Leanna Renee Hieber

This book came as a recommendation from as one that I should try when I was on my historical (murder mystery) bend last year. I took down the title and considered the purchase once every so often but it wasn’t until a couple of months ago that I decided to go ahead and take the plunge.

Due to the nature of the book from which I got this recommendation, I expected a story close to historical fact with an unexplained death at the centre of the plot. That’s not quite what I got, though…

Presentation: large paperback with medium-sized type that is well-spaced. The chapters continue on the same page after a small jump – I point this out because if you’re anything like me, you won’t be capable of putting a book down if there’s no page break. There are 324 pages and for some reason I didn’t write down how many chapters were in this book. (It is now in storage.)

Story: Miss Percy Parker arrives at the esteemed Athens Academy determined to receive an education. After her mother sadly passed within days of her birth, Percy was raised in a convent where she was kept away from the world at large because of her unique colouring.

Having persuaded the abbey mother to give her this chance at an education, though, Percy is determined to make the most of it. If the other students avoid her because of her lack of pigmentation, then so be it.

She excels at language studies but is also required to take a maths and science course. This course is taught by the enigmatic Alexi  Rychman. a man in his mid-30s. Percy immediately finds herself drawn to him but is embarrassed by her poor abilities in his class and how this forces him to give her private tutoring.

Little does she know that Alexi is one of the six members of a secret group, all inhabited by spirits, sworn to protect humanity from the things that go bump in the night. A prophecy looms over them: in time a seventh member, their equal, will join them, but they will also be tempted by a false member and should they choose the wrong person, they could bring down the walls between worlds.

Is Percy that seventh member or the one destined to doom the world at large? Alexi just doesn’t know.

Thoughts and impressions: First of all, let’s get the bad out of the way. The language use was often clunky with terms and expressions that really didn’t fit the era. As for the foreign language use, I couldn’t believe how bad it was considering this book was published by traditional means: close to every single sentence in French (that went beyond one word) had either grammar or spelling mistakes – or both. I did write them all down but then I lost the piece of paper it was on. In German, it’s not “heisse”, it’s “heiße”. It’s really not that hard to find the eszet in the character map, but ß is always used after the diphthong “ei”, and not double ‘s’. (I know some people say that’s it’s pretty much the same thing, but all of the Germans that I know, and living next door to Germany I know a fair few, are adamant that the eszet should be used.) The Russian I can’t comment on.

It can’t be that hard to get native speakers of these languages to quickly proof read the little excerpts written in them, especially not in the USA where so many people speak multiple languages fluently.

The other bad thing came at the end of the story when Percy did a complete 180 character turn and became a snivelling, useless lump of lard when she gets rejected. She’d been such a strong female character up until that point. Why change her into a woman dependant on the affections of a man at this point? She morphs into this ridiculous character that I no longer wanted to read about.

Now the good. The author takes a Greek tale – that of the goddess Persephone being tricked by Hades into leaving her winged lover and becoming his wife in his domain – and adapts it to Victorian England life. I have to admit, at first I had absolutely no idea what was going on in the prologue. It became clear soon enough, though, with the legend coming out in bits and pieces throughout the plot. Somebody more familiar with Greek mythology than I may have been able to spot what it was all leading to sooner than I did.

The reader is aware that Percy is Alexi’s eternal lover, whom we meet in her goddess form in the prologue, but neither of the characters is aware of this. It was actually rather sweet watching them interact with each other as Percy tries to stamp out her attraction to this much older man, and Alexi tries to figure out just what it is about Percy Parker that draws him to her. They had some very interesting scenes together during his private tutoring of her and I liked how their relationship grew. Well, until it destroyed everything Percy was and had stood for, as mentioned above.

I liked the other members of Alexi’s group as well. They were all interesting characters and I hope to see more of the romance Michael feels for Rebecca now that Rebecca has to face the fact that, despite her feelings, Alexi will never be hers. It was also fun, in an infuriating way, to watch them all being blind-sided by the woman the reader knows to be Hades’s envoy while rejecting Percy because she’s “too young” and so couldn’t possibly be their equal.

One thing that I wasn’t so sure about was that Jack the Ripper was actually a Cerberus sent by Hades to bring his wife back to him. It was an interesting take on the events, but I didn’t really buy it. Over the years, I’ve seen better interpretations of just what Jack the Ripper was (with him not being a normal human being) and this own seemed a little too far-fetched to me. Nevertheless, the Cerberus was still a formidable foe!

Oh, and from the way he’s described, I imagined Alexi as Alan Rickman!
(That’s ok, ‘cuz Alan Rickman’s pretty darn good looking!)

Style: As mentioned in the review, the style was clunky with too much of a mix of modern and forced period language. It didn’t flow perfectly, but it could easily just be the author still finding her voice. The foreign language mistakes really bugged me, though. They should have been checked – and not with Google Translate!

Final verdict: An interesting and well-plotted tale let down by Percy’s character change (I was considering 5 stars up until that point) but still good. 4 stars.

Extra notes: I don’t think there was any bad language use. No sex.


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