Saturday, 3 March 2012

Darker Still by Leanna Renee Hieber

This is yet another one of those YA books that has recieved quite a lot of attention prior to its release. With this one, though, things were a little different for me. For one, I I’d already read a book by Leanna Renne Hieber (The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker). Despite its flaws, I rather enjoyed that book. This one caught my eye when it was described as Pride and Prejudice meets The Picture of Dorian Grey.
So I put this book on pre-order and on November 1st precisely it was delivered to my door. It had to wait a couple of days for me to get school work out of the way to allow for reading time, though.

Title: Darker Still
Series: Magic Most Foul #1
Author: Leanna Renee Hieber
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Target Audience: YA
Pages: 317
Chapters: Diary entries, newspaper articles, private correspondence
PoV: 1st person
Tense: Past tense

Story: I was obsessed. 

It was as if he called to me, demanding I reach out and touch the brushstrokes of color swirled onto the canvas. It was the most exquisite portrait I'd ever seen--everything about Lord Denbury was unbelievable...utterly breathtaking and eerily lifelike. 

There was a reason for that. Because despite what everyone said, Denbury never had committed suicide. He was alive. Trapped within his golden frame. 

I've crossed over into his world within the painting, and I've seen what dreams haunt him. They haunt me too. He and I are inextricably linked--bound together to watch the darkness seeping through the gas-lit cobblestone streets of Manhattan. Unless I can free him soon, things will only get Darker Still.

(from Goodreads)

Thoughts and impressions: This idea held a lot of potential and for the most part the story lived up to my expectations. I liked the idea behind it all: it is fairly quickly implied that dark magic was used to imprison the British lord and what ensues is the attempt to unravel the secrets behind the ritual that tore Lord Denbury’s soul from his body. The end result of this was a little disappointing as I was expecting some complicated riddle, all things considered, but after the reveal it just felt like the characters had spent the whole book overlooking clues that had been staring them in the face.

Natalie was an interesting protagonist. I liked that she was mute, giving her an unusual perspective of life, but that she could hear – something all too often forgotten by those around her to comedic effect when Natalie takes things into her own hands to remind them of the fact. At the start of the story she’s in an asylum for the blind, deaf and dumb but soon returns home to her father. He happens to be a curator at a museum and when Natalie reads of the lifelike portrait of the recently deceased Lord Denbury coming to Manhattan, she becomes convinced that they need to procure it for the museum.

Her obsession with just looking at the portrait was a little disconcerting, though I suppose she wasn’t the only young woman in the story to show such tendencies. The only reason ever offered for this is that the man in the portrait happens to be very good looking. What would have happened had he been just average or suffered from some disfiguring scar?

It soon transpires that the painting looks so lifelike because there is a very much alive Lord Denbury stuck inside the painting. It also transpires that Natalie is the only one able to able to move through the portal from our world to the magical prison – both through physically touching the portrait and subconsciously in her dreams. The reader receives no explanation as to why this is the case beyond the idea that Natalie has a particular “aura” about her, opposite colours to those of the evil people who forced poor Lord Denbury into the painting. I suppose that if she wasn’t able to move between the two realities then there wouldn’t be much of a story but I felt like I, as the reader, was being asked to suspend my disbelief a bit too much.

I admit that I wanted more to it than what I was offered. Obviously, I can accept outlandish claims in fiction (such as a rock lodging itself in some woman’s hand – The Native Star by M.K. Hobson), so I have no doubts that with a little more effort on the author’s behalf, I could have accepted this more readily as well.

The villain’s motives were never really explored either. We don’t know why Denbury was chosen or why they (both the good Denbury in the portrait and the evil Denbury clone on the outside) travelled to the other side of the Atlantic (beyond, perhaps, anonymity but then the painting receives so much attention that that motive is rendered moot) or even what exactly the evil Denbury wants – beyond debauchery.

A large number of things are not addressed in this book and while I hope that they will be explored in future instalments, I would have preferred at least some insight in this book.

Beyond this, I like the characters introduced. Mrs Northe in particular is interesting, if bordering on a little too perfect. I wish Maggie had been used more – at one point I thought she might get a bigger, if terminal, role, but, like answers, she seems to have been shunned for a later book.

The focus of this book was on getting Denbury out of the cursed painting as well as the budding attraction between Natalie and Denbury. This worked quite well, though Natalie was infatuated before she’d even discovered the portal and Denbury seemed to choose her simply because she was the only human contact he got. It was sweet, despite teetering on the verge of questionable a couple of times.

Finally, I really don’t understand why this book is Pride and Prejudice meets Dorian Grey. Dorian Grey sure, it’s easy to see the parallels there, but I didn’t see any parallels with Pride and Prejudice.

Style: The author makes an effort to use a form of prose that has more of a 19th century ring to it but the language often feels far too modern with terms like “to chat up”. Also, she uses the expression “could care less”. Natalie’s disguised to get into the museum at night and as she feeds the guard some lie to get through the doors, he apparently “could care less” as he waves her through. Now, I realise that this is the version of the expression that most Americans use, but if you think about it, it really doesn’t make sense! If you could care less, then you care at least a bit. By using this expression you want to imply that you don’t care at all, in which case you couldn’t care less. David Mitchell has a very good explanation of this so I’ll just add his video.

Final verdict: Overall, I liked the story but I feel that it could have been so much more than it was. Originally I was going to give the book 5 stars but I realised that I was just going to do this because I was trying to delude myself into believing that the book is better than it really is. Then I was going to give it 4 stars instead but then I realised that I gave The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker 4 stars and I much preferred that book to this one. So I’m going to go with 3 stars.

Extra notes: No sex. I can't remember whether there was any bad language in the story.


  1. The cover looks amazing and the premise sounds fun. I feel bad when the author fails to do a follow-through on what s/he promised on the book flap.

    1. Aye, I'm with you on that one! Darker Still could have been really good if the intrigue had gone a bit deeper and things had been explored better. Oh well, it was still a good read.


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