Feb 16, 2012

Review: Darker Still: A Novel of Magic Most Foul by Leanna Renee Hieber

Book cover of Darker Still: A Novel of Magic Most Foul by Leanna Renee Hieber
Title: Darker Still: A Novel of Magic Most Foul [Amazon|GoodReads]
Author: Leanna Renee Hieber [Website|Twitter
Standing: First in a new series.
Genre: Young/New Adult, Historical Fiction, Gothic, Paranormal
Published: November 8th, 2011 by Sourcebooks Fire
Format: Paperback; 317 pages.  
Source: Borrowed from my local library.

New York County, Municipal Jurisdiction
Manhattan, July 31, 1880

New York City Police Record Case File: 1306

To whoever should have the misfortune to review this closed--but still unresolved--case, I extend my condolences.  I tell you truly that all persons involved have been insufferably odd.

All we know directly of Miss Natalie Stewart, disappeared at age seventeen, is what you will read here in what was left behind as an absurd testimonial.

Herein you shall find pertinent newspaper articles enclosed by Miss Stewart regarding Lord Denbury and his infamous portrait.  There are also letters from involved parties.

I am left to conclude that everyone involved is a certifiable lunatic.  Should you wish to indulge yourself and read a young lady’s foolish reveries on such highly improbable events, so be it.  Should you believe any of it, I hope you have no business with the New York Police Department now or in the future.

Sergeant James Patt
Natalie Stewart hasn’t spoken since her mother’s death when she was four.  Despite the pitying looks she’s constantly receiving from those who meet her, she is neither deaf nor dumb, but rather quick of wit and strong of character.  Her father’s employment at the fledgling Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City has put her in the position to pressure him into working with the buyer of a unique painting to put that painting on loan--and more importantly--give Natalie time to view it.  The portrait of Lord Denbury has gained renown for its lifelike image, and many believe it to have supernatural qualities.  Natalie alone, however, will find herself privy to the reality--that Lord Denbury’s good soul is indeed trapped in his portrait, and that a devil roams New York wearing Denbury’s body.

Natalie’s story is told, as indicated from the letter above, through her own words recorded in her diary and the addition of relevant newspaper articles and letters.  I enjoy this narrative style quite a bit when it is done well, and Natalie’s ability to recount events in the written word is believable in particular as she is an intelligent and well-spoken character who has had no other way to express herself (save for those few who understand sign language) for the bulk of her life.  However, this style also has its limitations, in that it limits the possibilities of where a story might go.  I kept expecting/almost wanting some horrible betrayal or event to occur, but how could it when somehow losing our narrator would also guarantee our loss of story?  I did very much enjoy Natalie’s character as a narrator with a disability, however mentally stimulated, though I think I would have preferred it had it not been something she could ever physically overcome (she technically has the capacity to speak, she simply has a traumatic mental block keeping her from doing so).   

I have found the idea of souls being trapped in pictures mind suckingly terrifying since I first read Roald Dahl’s The Witches as a child.  This terror is carried through in The Picture of Dorian Gray, and Darker Still.  The devil that wears Lord Denbury’s body like a suit uses it to partake in his carnal pleasures, and the results of his behaviors are reflected in the waining health of the Lord Denbury trapped in the portrait.  One Lord Denbury is good and kind to the point of making him vulnerable to those who would take advantage, the other is quite frankly a total creeper.    

As an obvious fan of Oscar Wilde, I could hardly pass up the chance to read a tale with such a clear nod to The Picture of Dorian Gray.  Leanna Renee Hieber’s tale used choice elements of this story beautifully, and in such a way as to make me rethink aspects the original.  While it is lacking the horrific edge of the Dorian Gray, Darker Still was a wonderful illustration of the possibilities fermented in Wilde’s novel.

Likelihood that I'll be back for more: I really enjoyed Darker Still, though I honestly went in thinking it was a stand alone.  I was happy with the ending, but the series premise could be interesting enough to keep me going--we’ll see.  I also now want to read The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker.   

Recommended for:  Fans of The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and the Gemma Doyle series.  Not for people looking for a horror novel (which is how it was categorized at my library); this is a paranormal romance with some admittedly creepy aspects, but it is not what I would call overly scary.

Real life repercussions of reading this book:  The likelihood of me ever sitting for a portrait is shrinking significantly from an already unlikely number.


  1. I love this review. I read this book solely because the cover reminded me of Dorian Gray, which is my favorite classic.

    I really like the people you recommend it to. :)

    1. Thanks! I love Dorian Gray too. I was slightly disappointed when I realized this book wasn't tied in more to that one, but I got over that quickly because it was a good homage to Dorian Gray while being its own story.

  2. I REALLY need to read this one - oh my gosh, this looks fab. and hearing you say it's for fans of Gemma Doyle means I need it like now :)

    1. You do! It reminded me a lot of Gemma Doyle, same time period, but in New York City.


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