Darker Still (Magic Most Foul #1)
The Picture of Dorian Gray meets Pride and Prejudice, with a dash of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. New York City, 1882. Seventeen-year-old Natalie Stewart's latest obsession is a painting of the handsome British Lord Denbury. Something in his striking blue eyes calls to her. As his incredibly life-like gaze seems to follow her, Natalie gets the uneasy feeling that details of the painting keep changing... Jonathan Denbury's soul is trapped in the gilded painting by dark magic while his possessed body commits unspeakable crimes in the city slums. He must lure Natalie into the painting, for only together can they reverse the curse and free his damaged soul.
From the very beginning I wanted to know the secrets behind the mysterious painting. Hieber shows readers the time period in all its lush glory with the 1880 version of Gossip Girls to the squatter of 5 points where murders happen. Natalie, though mute, isn't dumb. She's passionate and also not afraid to reach out to the trapped Lord Denbury even if this means she might be put away in an asylum.
A huge plus of this story has to be the writing which is true to the time period. Throw in a mysterious painting and a hot Lord, what's not to like. There's also a Jekyll and Mr. Hyde twist where a Lord Denbury lookalike leads Natalie to the worse part of New York City on her search to figure out the clues left on the painting and also to stop a string of murders.
The clues on how to release Lord Denbury are layered throughout the tale without being predictable. I also loved seeing a glimpse of the world in 1880 and how Natalie refused to let social norms not hold her back.
The romance builds slowly and is totally believable. Who wouldn't want to have a hot Lord desire them?
I couldn't put this story down. I love a good paranormal tale and especially historical ones. I can't wait to read more!
2. Love the gothic feel to story
3. Romance/suspense/paranormal elements that work together
Natalie Stewart is a mute girl. She's a young girl full of hope and dreams. She wants to speak again but she can't because of the death of her mother. She's smart, quiet (obviously, she's mute, hello), and aware of her surroundings. She's a girl not to be underestimated. She's brave and wants to help people. She wants to save the innocent. (The girls are the innocent people in this book, Darker Still). Natalie is a wonderful character and narrator who will delight the young audience of Darker Still. And she is indeed obsessed with the painting of Lord Denbury.
Jonathan... is awesome. I love how the author describes him. The author seriously has describe him in great detail. Almost to the tiny flaws. Jonathan is the strongest male character in Darker Still. He is fighting a battle with the devil. He's pretty strong according to Natalie's POV. He gets weaker throughout the book because the devil is doing horrible things with his body. Jonathan, by the way, is trapped inside a portrait. He has been split from his body. And the body has been hacked by the demon.
The dialects are amazing. The way the character speak felt old in the eighteen hundreds way. I wish the author would put a little more efforts into the dialects. The dialects have to be there since this book is a historical fiction and young adult and paranormal fiction and supernatural. I love books with dialects because it makes the book seem a little more alive.
The writing is smooth. I love having Natalie Stewart as a narrator. She is an awesome narrator. Readers will love her. She is a wonderful character that will delight readers endlessly. I just wish that the book wasn't Natalie's diary. It would be much more interesting if it was just Natalie's view. Not just what she puts in her diary. Although, her voice in a diary is much more impressive. It's an interesting change compared to how other books narrative their story. It's similar to Meg Cabot's series, The Princess Diaries. The difference between The Princess Diaries and Darker Still is that The Princess Diaries has a lot more humor than Darker Still. Darker Still is more romantic and exciting than The Princess Diaries.
I like the ending of Darker Still. The author included some pages of police reports on the disappearance of Natalie Stewart. It was interesting to read what the police had thought of her and her mysterious disappearance. I found it rather entertaining and downright hilarious. Especially when the writer of the report includes his thoughts and feelings about the situation.
The demon... I like what the author did to make readers like me hate the demon more and more. First of all, he robbed Jonathan's body. (That's is a big reason to hate the demon). Second of all, the demon is hurting the innocent. (The same people Natalie is protecting, yes). Third, the demon did something so foul to Natalie which makes readers hate him even more. (I think the demon likes being hated).
Darker Still is an eyeopener to the world of the eighteen hundreds in New York City, New York. The author has done a good job in plugging in the variables of the characters. Example: Natalie's disability to talk, gender, and money.
This book's rating is a four out of five. The next book is already out, I believe.
Rating: Older Teen (sensuality and minor sexuality, minor language, drug use, violence and minor gore)
Writing: Relatively solid and engaging; the voice was easy to follow. It was told in journal form, but way too detailed (with lengthy descriptions and actual conversations) to feel realistic.
Setting: The historical setting felt authentic enough, and I never felt particularly lost or out of place. The magical elements never felt overly unnatural.
Story: It began interesting, all spiritualism and hinting of Dorian Gray. I was intrigued by the painting and how it came to be, along with Natalie's ailment. But by the middle, the mystery became overly complicated, the mixing of religions and their "jealous gods" enough to lose both my comprehension and my interest. The sequence of events by themselves were straightforward and easy to follow - maybe a little too simple, given the tangle of the mystery. The final showdown was highly uncomplicated and therefore unbelievable, considering all the trouble the demon went to, but by then I'd lost all interest and just wanted the dreaded thing over with.
Characters: Natalie was an interesting-enough character, brave and empowered despite her "disability." I would have liked something more magical to have come of her loss of voice, though (it seemed a golden opportunity to me). As with most female leads these days, Natalie fell too hard in love for my taste, but she was a strong character who did what she had to in order to save the man she loved. I never really got a handle on Lord Denbury - I never saw the whole picture with him (pardon the apt term). I can tell you, however, that he was breathtakingly handsome (ugh), for we were reminded of it at least once a page. I actually felt I got a clearer picture of the demon, even though he barely came into the frame (again, pardon the term). Motherly mentor Mrs. Northe was, despite all my hopes, nothing more, which was good for Natalie but not for me. I did, however, find Mrs. Northe's spiritualism in the shadow of Christianity quite intriguing, and liked her despite her shortcomings.
Favorite Thing: To my surprise and delight, Mrs. Northe was a believer of the Japanese "Hitsuzen," the concept of fate and how, when something is meant to happen, or someones are meant to meet, it happens. It's always interesting to see concepts cross time and cultures like that.
Conclusion: Although I'm also not much for stories told in journal, my interest was engaged early on and I settled in for what I thought would be an enjoyable read. But by the middle, the story became unnecessarily complicated and slogged something awful. The book suddenly felt "long enough," and wasn't it time this all ended, yet I still had half a book remaining. T-T I almost gave up, but forced myself to finish, sure that it would be worth it in the end. Yet the climactic end turned out to be far too simple for the buildup - lofty promises were made, but the results were far from equal. When I finally closed the book, I felt let down, almost cheated for all the time and eventual struggle to finish what became a rather torturous book.
Recommend?: If you like historical journals about magic with very steamy romance.
Edition Read: Paperback
My full review can be found on my blog (scribblerskye.blogspot.com).
Leanna Renee Hieber has an amazing ability to bring her writing to life: everything about Darker Still was dark, alluring and perfect. The storytelling, the characters, the scenery, the time period - everything was so spot on I felt like I was reading a classic. This has to be one of the best re-imaginations I have ever read - and I applaud her for taking on the famous The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde.
Darker Still is told through journal entries by Natalie Stewart, a 17 year-old girl who lost the ability to speak when her mother died right before her eyes when she was only 4 years old. Because of her disability Natalie's father did the best that he could and sent her to a 'school' to, hopefully, regain her speech, but to also get her the best schooling a girl in her condition in 1870's can get. Natalie kept company with many books, learned sign language and kept herself busy with getting into trouble and being somewhat of a prankster at her school, all very harmless things, but Natalie showed enough spirit that everyone around her expected to just open her mouth and speak out loud as if she was never silent.
But as time moved on and she got older, she never did say anything to anyone.
Now that Natalie's schooling is over, she is determined to expand her world and join her father in his work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art as a consultant. And her first request is to acquire the portrait mentioned in the newspaper - Lord Denbury's painting.
The moment any one lays eyes on Lord Denbury's painting, they are instantly entrance by how realistic it is and can't help but join in on the bidding war to own the one-of-a-kind masterpiece. But there a few people that know that there is something much more to this piece of art, and in the wrong hands, bad things can happen to very good and innocent people. Especially after Natalie's discovers the true nature to Lord Denbury and his portrait. And she will do anything to protect it and its owner.
Natalie is such a strong person, motivated by love, she is determined to protect and save those she cares for no matter how dire the situation is. And Lord Denbury, Jonathon, is just as strong and loyal and willing to do what is necessary to protect Natalie and be her guardian angel in her nightmares and more...
Natalie's journal records a month worth of events in a past, but almost present, tense with letters and copies of police reports - all of the entries are very well thought out and piece the story at a strong and fluid pace. The writing is detailed enough to understand everything that is happening and the characters are all reachable, likable and imaginable - all so realistic.
Natalie and Lord Denbury's story is dark, consuming, exciting but is also romantic, believable and enduring. This book has made me a new fan of historical/paranormal stories! I highly recommend reading this one, and soon!
Natalie and Jonathan are great characters with some very steamy scenes! Very romantic. I've never read a book about a mute before Darker Still, and I really liked the way the author handled the situation. I also love paranormal books so this was perfect!
Honestly, it kind of creeped me out! I had recently seen a movie about possession in the theaters and the hauntings of this book meshed together with the shadows of my mind. Needless to say, my eyes played tricks on me much of the time while reading.
The story was great and I was looking forward to finding out just what happened to Jonathan. Still, I found myself skimming the last few chapters. Also, I’m not sure why there has to be a sequel. I liked the ending just fine!
Before I get into the things I didn't like, I'll talk about the aspect that I liked: the concept. The basic story holds a lot of appeal for me. The handsome boy trapped in a painting has vague echoes of The Portrait of Dorian Gray, though obviously the circumstances here are different. Traveling into a painting also sounds completely neat. Even the fact that Natalie could travel into the painting through her dreams was a nice addition, suggesting some interest things about the soul and connections.
The biggest problem I had was with Natalie. In a first person narrative (Darker Still is told primarily through Natalie's diary), characterization is even more vital than usual, and I did not like Natalie from the very beginning. Though I think I at first had hopes that her muteness would make her a unique heroine, she remained as petty, though entirely unaware of it, as all of the other society girls. She lost any sympathy I had for her voice lost in a childhood trauma when she said this of a blind girl engaged to the young man Natalie dreamed of for herself: "But alas, I'll have to find some other handsome young scholar with a penchant for unfortunates since Edgar stupidly went and got himself engaged to one. So what if she's blind? She can't see how beautiful he is. What a waste!" That unsympathetic, bitchy tirade turned me off to her entirely, and she never did anything to recover my estimation of her.
The writing perfectly matches Natalie's character. This is both a good and bad thing. Obviously, it's good for there to be a strong sense of character in a book told in first person. However, it is unfortunate when that person is not particularly bright. Darker Still teems with fragments and simple sentences. Natalie's diary is vapid and the writing made me want to headdesk. I believe Hieber did do this intentionally, as the writing from the news articles and other statements was much improved, but the book is still mostly in a writing style that makes me batty.
Next up, we have the romance. Shy, nineteenth century mute Natalie stumbles into Jonathon's painting and into his arms. She has, of course, been transfixed by his appearance. Being the innocent she is, this even startles her into speech, clear only in this picture's small environs. This is a convenient plot point, because, as we learned in The Little Mermaid, guys actually do want their girls to talk.
Natalie and Jonathon promptly fall into instalove. Yup. What really upsets me about this is how quickly our good little nineteenth century Lutheran accustoms herself to physical contact (oh my) with Jonathon. That seemed rather out of character. The whole book takes place over the course of just two weeks, and I have trouble imagining that a girl with her background and that much to lose would rush into a physical relationship so quickly. Let's not forget, also, that they have their romantic moments in a portrait, sometimes while Mrs. Northe is watching. I don't know what can be seen while she's in there, but that's really not something you want to take a chance on. For the most part, there's is a typical YA paranormal romance where they seem to have little to nothing in common but for their circumstances and mutual attraction, but they do at least have one conversation not about the present.
The final thing, perhaps most damning (pun!) to me, were the religious undertones. I definitely was not expecting them, and was very much not thrilled to find them here. I don't want to go into much detail, but I had to mention it.
The redeeming factor of the book that lead me to bump the book up to a 2.5 from a 2 is Mrs. Northe. She sort of adopts young Natalie, and is the one person in the book who is entirely comfortable with Natalie as a mute. If there's a love story here, it's one of an adopted daughter, because Mrs. Northe is, as I see it, the only one who truly acceps the best and worst of Natalie. Jonathon didn't get to see it all. Mrs. Northe is funny, spunky and one of those old ladies with a steely glint in her eye, the kind who would be played in a movie by someone like Dame Judi Dench or Maggie Smith, only around age 40. She looks classy, but will say exceedingly surprising and inappropriate things. For example, she gave me hope with the quote I shared down below. This is what I want to say to ALL of the instaloving couples.
My overall feelings about this book definitely ended up being rather meh. I think the book turned out the way Hieber intended, and it will be delightful for people who enjoy Natalie's way of thinking. Though I do not plan to read the sequel, I will probably try one of Hieber's books for adults to see if I like those better, since I can see promise shining through.
Natalie did not have that spark that makes her a excellent character. She had all the same characteristics that excellent heroines have, but she did not fit in with me. I think it might be it was the way she addressed herself and the away she wrote her journal that did not work with me.
I tried my hardest to like Lord Denbury, but I feel he did not work either. Natalie and Denbury's romance did not work with either, normally I can feel the chemistry between the characters, but not this time. I think that the part when he got into it should of been changed, that was really weird and did not work.
I think that no Victorian lady would do anything that these characters did. They would not even think of it. I think that it was good that she did, but it should of been addressed differently, like she should of been slowly getting braver and more daring.
One other thing that did not work with me was that the magic was not foul enough or dark enough. The title portrays that the book would be full of dark magic, but I did not think it was enough. The idea was pretty foul, but it was not enough. I feel that if the title says that, it should follow it in a way.
This book did not connect with, but it may with someone else. I liked the characters and the plot but they did not really work with me. I think it may just be me, and I reckon everyone else will love this book, so read it if you love paintings, magic and guys trapped in paintings.
And I really liked Lord Denbury, or at least what we saw of him, but the romance didn't have that certain spark for me. The chemistry just wasn't there for me and I thought it'd be more romantic. I mean, this guy is trapped in a painting. You'd think all of the forbidden-ness would've made me swoon but...I wasn't there.
I did really enjoy the story. It wasn't like any book I've read (I haven't read Dorian Gray) and it was really well written and the mystery was really interesting. It was more that Darker Still wasn't what I was expecting it to be.
So, Darker Still, really. It's not you, it's me.
Which means obviously now the rest of you have to try it for yourselves because I'm clearly no help to you.
This setting is New York City in the 1800's. This is probably my favorite time and place pairing in historical fiction. The wonders and perils of the city were portrayed in a fully descriptive and magical way.
Natalie is the type of girl who doesn't fit in anywhere. Mostly it's because she is mute, or so she thinks. I thought that she was just different and fit in with a different crowd. She soon finds that out when she joins the company of Ms. Northe and the life-like painting of Lord Denbury.
I thought it was great for Natalie to be able to talk with the real Denbury and not have to worry about her muteness. This gave her the strength she needed in the outside world. All of the runes and ancient script in Darker Still was so marvelously creepy and intriguing!
When I started the book, I thought it was a standalone, but alas, it will have more books as it is a series. I am utterly excited about it! There were some great hints in this book about the content of the next. I can't wait to see what comes next in Natalie and Jonathan Denbury's story!
This is an AMAZING novel guaranteed to have readers up far past a reasonable bedtime. Since Natalie does not speak the story is told in a series of journal entries which gives this text an intimate peek into the main character's thoughts and emotions. Hieber has done an solid job of creating characters of substance, even those that only walk across a few pages. The reader is drawn into the society and city of New York in the 1880s with all it's texture and grit. Anyone familiar with New York City will recognize landmarks such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art (just a few years old at the time of this novel) and the Angel of the Waters in Central Park. While the homage to Wilde's Picture of Dorian Gray is evident, Darker Still is a wholly different novel that will resonate with readers. Highly Recommended.
Recommended for Readers Of:
Oscar Wilde, Maggie Stiefvater, Kady Cross, Lia Habel
2. Interesting Characters
3. Vivid world building
Typically, I'm not the right reader for epistolary novels; the structure tends to be a tension-killer for me. However, DARKER STILL charmed me both with its voice and premise. How much do I love haunted paintings and kissing scenes!