Lea's Reviews > Darker Still

Darker Still by Leanna Renee Hieber
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Actually I give this one 3.5 stars-- I couldn't decide between 3 and 4 so I'm taking the middle road haha...

Natalie Stewart lives in New York City in the 1880's. Ever since her mother died when she was young, Natalie has been unable to speak, and her only way to communicate is with her journal or by using sign language with the few who know it. Her father works for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and as the story starts, we learn about a mysterious painting said to be haunted. It is a portrait of the young and "devastatingly handsome" Jonathon Whitby, AKA Lord Denbury, who recently died by drowning- some say he killed himself. Rumors abound that the air around the painting is "chilly" and the eyes of the portrait are much too lifelike. Natalie soon becomes fascinated by the painting and the inexplicably familiar man it portrays-- even though his painting has an unsettling ability to change...

Things get even creepier when Natalie falls into the painting and meets the young Lord Denbury himself. A series of disturbing nightmares follow, all of them turning out to be premonitions of darker things to come. Brutal murders begin to terrorize the city of New York, as a man who has an uncanny resemblance to the late Lord Denbury becomes the number one suspect. Working with the mysterious Mrs. Northe, Natalie has to find hidden clues and secret information about an occult society intent on gaining ultimate power, in order to reverse the curse that has been put on Lord Denbury-- and stop once and for all the terror surrounding the painting.

Alright, so I had mixed feelings about this book. There were definitely things I liked, and things I was a little bit disappointed with. We'll start with the likes!

First, the characters were great. Natalie was a strong, smart, unique, and independent heroine whose intelligent thoughts and eloquent account of events had me mesmerized from start to finish. While her rationality compels her to disbelieve what is happening between herself and Lord Denbury, she is still inexplicably drawn to his portrait. Her vulnerability and insightfulness were the perfect mix to create a very likable main character. I also liked no-nonsense, slightly kooky Mrs. Northe-- she was the epitome of Victorian etiquette and proper manners, but she had a subtle sense of humor that had me smiling to myself every time she entered the story. Her quirky notions and habits made her both endearing and memorable. And then of course there was Lord Denbury-- talk about melt-your-heart irresistible! Dark, brooding, but with a vulnerable, sweet side that longs to do good in the world, Lord Denbury was the perfect gentleman. He sort of reminded me of Mr. Rochester from Jane Eyre, and I think you will fall in love with him too!

The writing was also incredibly well-done. Leanna can take the simplest of movements or gestures and with words, turn them into something stunningly beautiful and real. When Natalie reaches to touch the painting of Lord Denbury for the first time, I could actually see and experience the scene. Furthermore, the narrative of Natalie Stewart was witty, intelligent, descriptive and flowing-- it definitely kept me reading!

The story itself was downright creepy and sent shivers down my spine-- it was eerie and Gothic and the plot built up suspense in all the right places. I loved all of the Victorian literature tie-ins too! Leanna vividly captures a proper and superstitious Victorian society with all of the dark undertones and rigid social rules that characterized the time. Reading like a ghost story of old, Darker Still had plenty of shivers, thrills and creepiness!

However, there were some things about this book that rubbed me the wrong way. I'm not trying to turn anyone off from reading this book, but I wanted to point out where I personally had some issues-- probably most people won't even be bothered by these things.

OK, so the first issue had to do with approaching religion and faith in books. I was going to go off on a big tangent about this, but I decided not to. Why? Because it's a personal issue that has nothing to do with the literary merit of the book, and I don't think it's fair to base a review on what I personally believe. Furthermore, I totally understand that much of the story drew its inspiration from Gothic-Victorian elements, which were heavily influenced by religion, spiritualism, superstition, etc. So, while the whole religion thing bothered me somewhat (I won't go into specifics), please disregard this entire paragraph if it's not something that would affect your own enjoyment of the book.

On a (slightly) less controversial note, I sort of thought that this book was a **bit** condescending and derogatory towards men. Now, I'm not saying this was intentional, but I have my reasons for being a little miffed. First of all, nearly all the men in this book were portrayed as being either devilish villains who victimize women, clueless and bumbling idiots, paid cronies, or helpless victims in need of saving. Meanwhile, all the women seemed to be categorized as either fiercely independent and the only ones with enough sense to deal with serious issues, innocent victims of male brutality, or glorified saints and angels. Added to this, Natalie tends to hint at the superiority of women over men, describes her father as though he's nothing more than a child, and mentions repeatedly how unfairly women are treated-- but then makes some rather unfair stereotyped statements about men. Yes, it is true that women were mistreated and not given equal rights in the 1800's-- and still aren't completely even today. I get that, so I really don't need to be reminded every dozen pages. This only makes me feel like some kind of hidden agenda is being pushed on me, and I don't like that very much.

Finally, I thought that the plot began to drag somewhat, due to the fact that there was so much description and explanation. And the story just got so convoluted! I mean, we've got Christian dogma, Biblical stories, Spiritualism, Mysticism, magic, spells, witchcraft, Egyptian hieroglyphics, Latin incantations, demons-- it was very difficult to sort out and then process the gigantic mish-mash of plot twists. The ending got to be lengthy, and it took a long time for all the loose ends to be tied up. You know how at the end of The Lord of the Rings movie there are like half a dozen points where you THINK the story is about to end, but then it just keeps right on a-going? Yeah, similar story here. (Side note: I LOVE LOTR, I just thought it was a funny comparison!)

Altogether this was a tough book for me to review because I had so many conflicting opinions about it. Added to this, some of my hang-ups were personal, and while I wanted to stay true to myself and at least mention them, I didn't want them to bias my review. Still-- personal opinions aside-- the writing was awesome, the narrative and dialogue were wonderfully done, and the Gothic-Victorian elements made for a dark and creepy story that was very unique. It did feel to me a little drawn-out towards the end, and I didn't like some of the main characters' opinions. But overall I'm pretty sure that this book will appeal to most readers, and be thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining!

Lea @ LC's Adventures in Libraryland

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Reading Progress

10/05/2011 page 10
10/07/2011 page 213
67.0% 2 comments
10/07/2011 page 224
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Comments (showing 1-13 of 13) (13 new)

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message 1: by Chelsey (new) - added it

Chelsey Ahh! I am so jealous .. this book looks absolutely amazing.

message 2: by Lea (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lea It was good! It had some things I personally didn't care for, but overall the writing was great :)

message 3: by Gianne (new)

Gianne I have this book sitting in my Kindle. I'll need to get to it faster :) Can't wait to hear your review!

message 4: by Molli (new) - added it

Molli Moran This one is on my TBR. Definitely going to have to check it out now!

message 5: by Kari (new)

Kari nice review :)

Pixie Great review, Lea. :) Pretty much the same opinions on my end for this one, too. I still have to write up my review for it though. Haha.

message 7: by [deleted user] (new)

I'm excited to read this now because I have some extremely strong opinions on religion in books. I guess I'll have to see if that comes into play at all.

message 8: by Lea (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lea Thanks guys :)

Pixie~ I'm looking forward to seeing your review

Kara~ I do as well, which is why I just left it alone for the most part, because otherwise this review would've been as long as the actual book lol

message 9: by [deleted user] (new)

LOL haha! I can only imagine. If it's handled well it doesn't bother me. I actually really enjoyed The Girl of Fire and Thorns. And I thought I would have issues with that, but I didn't. So now I'm really interested to see how I feel about this one.

message 10: by Lea (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lea Well... I didn't think it was handled well here lol. I don't like when any religion is thrown into a book without being properly respected, but I'm a Christian so a lot of the religious aspects in this book really rubbed me the wrong way... and I consider myself to be pretty tolerant!

message 11: by [deleted user] (new)

And isn't that funny? I'm an atheist. So I may not have problems. But if any religion/lack of religion gets attacked, I tend to get pretty testy, so we will see.

message 12: by Lea (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lea It wasn't attacked, just not portrayed accurately. I think it's fine to take creative license with a lot of things, but religion/faith isn't one of them in my book... On a similar note, The Sharp Time by Mary O'Connell also dealt with religion, coming from the viewpoint of Catholicism, which has a totally different viewpoint than me when it comes to God and faith-- BUT it was handled very well so I was fine with it. It's all about HOW it's approached-- for me anyways ;)

message 13: by [deleted user] (new)

Yeah I totally agree. We'll discuss this more after I read it, I am sure. It's in my review queue and I'm trying, key word is trying, to blow through it quickly. Ha.

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