Thursday, June 7, 2012

Darker Still

Darker Still, by Leanna Renee Hieber, didn't intrigue me as much as some young adult novels. It's a sort of gothic romance that takes place in Victorian-era New York City. That much was interesting to me. But the story is about a young English Lord, imprisoned in a painting, and the mute girl who attempts to rescue him. I didn't see a lot of action, or even plot, coming out of this scenario. But I kept the advance reader's copy on my shelf (it was released last November), and now that I've read it, I admit that the plot was decent, for being about such a seemingly restrictive subject.

But I still don't love the book. I think it was the manner in which it was narrated that turned me off. It's narrated by Natalie, a selectively mute girl who hasn't spoken since her mother died, in her diary. Since the story is meant to be a bit of a mystery, this didn't work for me because any suspense there might have been was taken away by the fact that the girl was writing about it later. I never really feared for her life. When the climax comes, she indicates the ending before even writing about it, which completely spoiled the surprise. I just love book endings to be a complete surprise. I'll read a back cover copy, but I will never open a book just to read the last page (unless I know for certain I'm not going to read the book). I hate spoilers, and I rarely include spoilers in my reviews unless I simply can't talk about the book otherwise, in which case I warn the reader. So, the diary didn't work for me. A more traditional first person narration would have piqued my interest more and would have helped me read this book faster. As it was, it took longer than usual because I just wasn't intrigued enough to pick the book back up very quickly.

Another aspect of this book that would typically turn me off but that is handled fairly tastefully is the magic. It borders on the occult, which I don't like to read at all, believing that stuff to be dangerous and have real-life applications. This book has ghosts and talks about spiritualism, seances, and spells (stuff I usually avoid), but the main part of the magic seems to be just that: magic. There is a curse, but it feels more like black magic than real occult stuff. And that just sits better with me.

The romance is sweet, but even that bothered me at times. It gets a little inappropriate for a Victorian-era novel, but at least it doesn't pretend that it's normal. It explains itself in that the circumstances are so strange that the main characters lose inhibitions. Okay. That makes sense. Still, it's not what you expect to read about in Victorian times and was a little off-putting.

So, I give this novel somewhere between two and three stars. You aren't missing anything if you don't read it.

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