Review: Darker Still

Review: Darker StillDarker Still by Leanna Renee Hieber
Series: Magic Most Foul #1
Published by Sourcebooks Fire on November 8, 2011
Genres: Historical, Paranormal, Romance
Pages: 317
Format: ARC
Source: Won
Goodreads
one-half-stars

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 was a reason for that. Because despite what everyone said, Denbury never had committed suicide. He was alive. Trapped within his golden frame.

I've crossed over into his world within the painting, and 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. Unless I can free him soon, things will only get Darker Still.

First Sentence: “To whoever should have the misfortune to review this closed—but still unresolved—case, I extend my condolences.”

Review:
I suppose I should have known after a string of good reads that I would soon be in for a disappointment. My hopes were high for Darker Still, which I’ve heard compared to Jane Austen with magic. That sounded AWESOME. Unfortunately, what I found was a fairly typical YA paranormal romance complete with instalove and a ditsy heroine.

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.

Favorite Quote:

“‘Just don’t say that you’ll die without the other one or that you’ll never love again or that you’re not whole—’ She batted her hand. ‘That’s the stuff of Romeo and Juliet, hasty nonsense, and you know how well that turned out. There’s magic about the two of you, yes. Just don’t be desperate about it. That’s where souls go wrong, when they think they don’t have choices. The heart must make choices.'”

12 responses to “Review: Darker Still”

  1. Lilian says:

    Awwww, and I thought the concept was freakin’ awesome as well. I would love to step into some paintings…but definitely not into one of war, one of Dali’s surrealistic paintings would be fun though.

    I don’t think I will be reading this one: I like my romances developed (Harlequins give me enough instalove) and protagonists smart. And I’m not a big fan of religious undertones (especially ones that sound like they are preaching to me.)

    “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. “
    Haha, which makes me wonder if how the painting changes, does it fade into something else or…moves?

    “Jane Austen with magic” would probably be more suited towards Mary Robinette Kowal’s Shades of Milk and Honey series.

    Lilian @ A Novel Toybox

    • Christina says:

      Yeah, the concept had me salivating for sure. Avoiding the war paintings is a good plan, for sure. It would depend which Dali painting. I don’t want to start melting.

      Yeah, the romance did NOTHING for me, except give my eyes some exercise. The religion wasn’t really preachy, but it was weird and I didn’t think it necessary.

      I DON’T KNOW. You’d think Mrs. Northe would comment, but WE NEVER FIND OUT.

      I want to try that series! Is it good?

  2. Adriana says:

    Never heard of this one. The quotes you gave do remind me of Jane Austen but just because they are speaking that old english doesn’t mean it’ll be as good unfortunately.

    Before you started writing your review the description reminded me so much of this episode of The Electric Company (yes, I watch a kid’s show sometimes) where they get sucked into a painting.

    Why do authors think that teenagers like Instalove and a crappy heroine? Oh well. Thanks for the review (:

  3. Renae says:

    I read this book back in January and absolutely hated it. Like you I was super excited by the premise, but Natalie was an awful character.

    Fantastic review!

  4. This book sounded really good but now I’m not so sure. I think I’ll try and borrow it from someone as it doesn’t seem too promising. 🙁

  5. Kayla Beck says:

    I haven’t read this yet (it’s next on my list for AAD next week!), so I only read the first paragraph and your star rating. *sigh* Why do they have to use instalove and ditzes?! I shall return when I finish it.

  6. Kind of like Jane Austen? And she can step through portraits into that world? Sounds pretty neat! But from your review, some of the things that annoyed you would annoy me. Especially the main character not being someone you could like. That’s important for me! Thanks for sharing your honest thoughts!

    • Christina says:

      Maybe it would work for you, but it just didn’t for me. I also didn’t think it felt particularly Jane Austen-ish, but, then again, I may be biased, since I adore Jane Austen.

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