Kereesa's Reviews > Darker Still

Darker Still by Leanna Renee Hieber
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Dec 24, 13

bookshelves: giveaways, it-s-a-dress-it-must-be-ya, 2012, paranormal, paranormal-romance, young-adult, necromancy-ghosts-and-the-dead, historical, demons-magic
Recommended for: Fans of Victorian Lit/AGATB
Read from April 30 to May 05, 2012, read count: 1

***A big thank you to Inga from Me and Reading and her November Giveaway Hop!***

My boyfriend recently read The Picture of Dorian Gray and, while I'm not usually one for spoilers, I allowed him to essentially summarize what was going on in the book, etc... I'm not sure why I was so okay with this, it's a mash up between I'm-only-going-to-have-time-to-read-it-in-like-5-years and I'm-under-the-impression-there's-more-to-the-novel-than-the-plot.

I'm going off on a tangent here, but I'll get to the point in a minute.

Anyway, because of this odd sharing of lovely Dorian I felt, in essence, I had sort of read the novel. Or, at the very least, was exposed to its presence and atmosphere. In addition, I've been suffering from this weird book-disease I'm going to call A Great and Terrible Beauty withdrawal ever since I read the novel (like 6 years ago). And while I have yet to find a book that comes close to fulfilling my need for more Gemma and her wonderful world of creepy, crawly things, and have suffered through a mountain of books that have disappointed me (I'm looking at you The Luxe), Darker Still was a bit closer to the mark, and semi-fulfilled my urge. Add in a bit of Dorian background/influence/inspiration, and Darker Still was very close to being fantastic.

So Darker Still is written as a diary, with the addition of letters, etc... in its pages and afterward, as a means of expression for our heroine, Natalie, who has been mute since a tragic accident concerning her mother silenced her at the age of four. And let me interject her by stating that I really, really liked the fact that Natalie was mute. Well, I didn't like that she was incapable of speech and forced to suffer from isolation, pity, etc..., but I like heroines or heroes who have disabilities. Eona's maimed leg was one of the reason's why I loved her so much in Eon: Dragoneye Reborn, and Natalie's inability to speak, likewise, was one of the reasons she appealed to me so much. I like characters who have to overcome difficulties, sometimes physical, sometimes in relation to some kind of prejudice, and Natalie really did fit that bill. (view spoiler)

Anyway, things go crazy-paranormal-fun-times when Natalie hears of a painting that is so life-like (not to mention dreamy) it is not only intensely coveted by high society, but has a bit of supernatural elements to it. The painting, a portrait of the late Lord Denbury, who apparently killed himself under mysterious circumstances, is one that Natalie, along with her newfound friend Margaret and Margaret's spiritualist aunt, Mrs. Northe, (who easily is the embodiment of the mentor/Obi Wan character in the novel), can't help but obsess over. Though, to be honest, Margaret's and Natalie's obsession is of a different nature than Mrs. Northe's.

Ya'll know what I'm saying-Lord Denbury is smexy

As Natalie, with the help of Mrs. Northe, gets closer and closer to the painting and its subject, a string of murders and a strange, otherworldly Denbury appear and collide in a romp of dark, gothic chaos. Add in a bit of romance, a little bit of mystery and magic, and you have Darker Still.

Within both the YA and Victorian Lit field, Darker Still doesn't offer much in terms of originality. Its plot is standard for most paranormal novels, and its romance fulfills the insta-love bar the genre seems to set. The supernatural elements and mystery to the novel are good, but a bit too predictable at times. The fact that Natalie relays the events slows down the suspense as well, as does Mrs. Northe's quick and easy answer for all of their problems. I really don't think I can fault the novel for this, however, because it is written as a journal and Mrs. Northe is The Spiritualist so it makes sense she would understand more of what's going on than Natalie would. But it was a detail that urked me just a little. The one thing I really enjoyed, however, in relation to the paranormal aspects of the novel, was the use of paintings and the idea of the soul a la Dorian Grey as the novel's main centerpiece. That's truly what intrigued me from the beginning and was the reason why I choose to get this novel.

The romance, as I've stated, is a bit insta-love and falls into that destiny-brought-us-together category. While I'm usually not a fan of this kind of thing, I was actually okay (not happy though) with the romance between Natalie and Lord Denbury.

Spoiler. Opps.

I think I liked the romance was, in part, because Natalie is clear about her obsession with the painting and doesn't hide how crazy she is about it. It's weird and she knows that, and I think that's why I was okay with the romance for the most part. Maybe it's the Dorian influence, but I could understand why she was so in love with this image of beauty, of perfection, of the soul. It made sense to me in relation to what I knew about The Picture of Dorian Gray is what I'm getting at. I also was okay with the romance because there was development (finally!) later on in the novel, and while there was more than a bit of physical chemistry, it never fully overshadowed what I felt was bits and pieces of a real relationship.

As a Victorian Lit novel, Darker Still balances the suppressed nature of Victorian Era society (albeit in late 19th century New York) with a more modern approach pretty well. That being said, I don't think I would've enjoyed Darker Still as much if I didn't have a background in the Victorian era. Knowing the kind of society Natalie was living in made the book more bearable, since I felt the novel was lacking some world-building elements that could've been beneficial to someone who didn't know much about that point in time. While there were small hints of world building, most is left to us to figure out. (which makes sense considering the fact that Natalie is writing a journal and therefore doesn't need to explain the world to herself, but it still bothered me) This is more of a nitpick of mine than an actual problem I had with the novel, but I thought I'd mention it.

One of the main problems I did have was the fact that the entire novel is written in journal form. This, of course, really is due to the fact that I've read things like Terrier and I Capture the Castle, both of which utilize journals in a way that is absolutely wonderful, and therefore anything in comparison is kind of lackluster. As I've mentioned before, I felt the way the journal was written slowed down the pace and suspense within Darker Still, something that shouldn't happen either in a YA or a paranormal novel, especially one that demands chilling and scary moments the way this one did. While I think this was the best choice, because it helped us feel for Natalie's condition in a way regular prose might not have and allowed for excessive info-dumping on the mystery, it wasn't quite perfect for me.

All in all, I really enjoyed Darker Still. It was fun, mysterious, and played around with both paranormal and Victorian Era elements in a way that I didn't feel like it was an utter-rip off or just nauseatingly terrible. While I recommend this one to all YA readers out there, it might be a good idea to get your hands on a few good Victorian Lit novels (whether from this century or not) and maybe check out The Picture of Dorian Gray in some fashion or another before you decide to try this one. The influences/references/etc..., I think, are actually important to know in this case. 3-3.5/5
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