First published: 8th November 2011
By: Sourcebooks Fire
I was obsessed.
It was as if he called to me, demanding I reach out and touch the brushstrokes of color swirled onto the canvas. It was the most exquisite portrait I'd ever seen - everything about Lord Denbury was unbelievable... utterly breathtaking and eerily lifelike.
There is a reason for that. Because despite what everyone said, Denbury didn't commit suicide. He's alive. Trapped within his golden frame.
I've crossed over into his world within the painting. I've seen what dreams haunt him. They haunt me too. He and I are inextricably linked - bound together to watch the darkness seeping through the gas-lit, cobblestone streets of Manhattan. And unless I can free him soon, things will only get darker still...
I enjoyed this book a lot and I think if you are a fan of 19th century gothic fiction, you will, too. Leanna Renee Hieber's book deftly mimics the style and feel (and some of the plot) of these novels, to create Darker Still and the end result won me over. It's melodramatic and a little bit silly, but so are the books it's aping and Hieber employs enough knowingness and humour to make it work well.
The main character of Darker Still is Natalie and the story is told via Natalie's diary entries (book-ended by a police report claiming that, of course the contents of the diary are nonsense and we should not believe a word). Like other epistolary novels, it's sometimes absurd when and how Natalie is writing everything down, but that's a convention of the genre and Darker Still made me smile a lot by having Natalie nod to this with a suitable explanation every time.
Natalie is a charming heroine. She's a mute, which does the twin jobs of immediately engaging the reader's sympathy and serving as a metaphor for 19th century women being essentially voiceless in society. Natalie's father runs the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which leads Natalie to befriend the wealthy New York doyenne, Mrs Northe, when Mrs Northe purchases a painting of the English Lord Denbury. Lord Denbury is presumed dead, but his painting is astonishingly lifelike and it's not long before Natalie learns its secret: the real Denbury's soul is trapped inside the painting; a demon has taken over his body and is using it to commit murder on the New York streets.
So...melodramatic. But fitting for the genre and a lot of fun. Elements of great stories The Picture of Dorian Gray and The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde are meshed together and like many 19th century novels, underneath the plot Darker Still is really a story about the era's mistreatment of women, repressed sexuality, fear of feminine power and all that stuff I loved to gab about in my Lit classes.
Natalie and Mrs Northe team up to save Denbury and it's delightful to see Natalie become stronger over the course of the novel and to eventually find her voice. Denbury mainly serves as a vehicle for Natalie to explore all this, and her sexuality, but I did find their scenes together pretty cute, as they struggle between their feelings and keeping propriety. The character of Mrs Northe kept me guessing the entire book as to whether she's really as good as she seems or is secretly sinister and I think my interest in the sequel is pinned on finding out more about Mrs Northe.
And yes, like all YA books nowadays, this is the first in a series. Having finished Darker Still, I have no idea what plot the second book could possibly have, however, I'm sure I will enjoy revisiting Natalie, and the author, again.
Rating: 4 stars
This book was provided to me by the publisher, through NetGalley, in exchange for a fair and honest review.