Saturday, October 29, 2011

ARC Book Review: Darker Still

Author: Leanna Renee Haber
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Release Date: November 1, 2011
Pages: 320
Read it in: 3 days
Source: ARC provided by the publisher via NetGalley

Summary: 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.

LC's Take:

Alright, so I had mixed feelings about this book. There were definitely things I liked, and things I was a little bit disappointed with. We'll start with the likes!

First, the characters were great. Natalie was a strong, smart, unique, and independent heroine whose intelligent thoughts and eloquent account of events had me mesmerized from start to finish. While her rationality compels her to disbelieve what is happening between herself and Lord Denbury, she is still inexplicably drawn to his portrait. Her inquisitive nature and vulnerability were the perfect mix to create a very likable main character. I also liked no-nonsense, slightly kooky Mrs. Northe-- she was the epitome of Victorian etiquette and proper manners, but she had a subtle sense of humor that had me smiling to myself every time she entered the story. Her quirky notions and habits made her both endearing and memorable. And then of course there was Lord Denbury-- talk about melt-your-heart irresistible! Dark, brooding, but with a vulnerable, sweet side that longs to do good in the world, Lord Denbury was the perfect gentleman. He sort of reminded me of Mr. Rochester from Jane Eyre, and I think you will fall in love with him too!

The writing was also incredibly well-done. Leanna can take the simplest of movements or gestures and with words, turn them into something stunningly beautiful and real. When Natalie reaches to touch the painting of Lord Denbury for the first time, I could actually see and experience the scene. Furthermore, the narrative of Natalie Stewart was witty, intelligent, descriptive and flowing-- it definitely kept me reading!

The story itself was downright creepy and sent shivers down my spine-- it was eerie and Gothic and the plot built up suspense in all the right places. I loved all of the Victorian literature tie-ins too! Leanna vividly captures a proper and superstitious Victorian society with all of the dark undertones and rigid social rules that characterized the time. Reading like a ghost story of old, Darker Still had plenty of shivers, thrills and creepiness!

However, there were some things about this book that rubbed me the wrong way. I'm not trying to turn anyone off from reading this book, but I wanted to point out where I personally had some issues-- probably most people won't even be bothered by these things.

OK, so the first issue had to do with approaching religion and faith in books. I was going to go off on a big tangent about this, but I decided not to. Why? Because it's a personal issue that has nothing to do with the literary merit of the book, and I don't think it's fair to base a review on what I personally believe. Furthermore, I totally understand that much of the story drew its inspiration from Gothic-Victorian elements, which were heavily influenced by religion, spiritualism, superstition, etc. So, while the whole religion thing bothered me somewhat (I won't go into specifics), please disregard this entire paragraph if it's not something that would affect your own enjoyment of the book.

On a (slightly) less controversial note, I sort of thought that this book was a **bit** condescending and derogatory towards men. Now, I'm not saying this was intentional, but I have my reasons for being a little miffed. First of all, nearly all the men in this book were portrayed as being either devilish villains who victimize women, clueless and bumbling idiots, paid cronies, or helpless victims in need of saving. Meanwhile, all the women seemed to be categorized as either fiercely independent and the only ones with enough sense to deal with serious issues, innocent victims of male brutality, or glorified saints and angels. Added to this, Natalie tends to hint at the superiority of women over men, describes her father as though he's nothing more than a child, and mentions repeatedly how unfairly women are treated-- but then makes some rather unfair stereotyped statements about men. Maybe it sounds like I'm being too uptight, but I think that if we read a book written by a male author where all the women were made out to be clueless bimbos and all the men were awesome, we would be pretty offended, so it's only fair to have it go both ways in my opinion... let's not stereotype please! Yes, it is true that women were mistreated and not given equal rights in the 1800's-- and still aren't completely even today. I get that, so I really don't need to be reminded every dozen pages. This only makes me feel like some kind of hidden agenda is being pushed on me, and I don't like that very much.

I also thought that the plot began to drag somewhat, due to the fact that there was so much description and explanation. And the story just got so convoluted! I mean, we've got Christian dogma, Biblical stories, Spiritualism, Mysticism, magic, spells, witchcraft, Egyptian hieroglyphics, Latin incantations, demons-- it was very difficult to sort out and then process the gigantic mish-mash of plot twists. The ending got to be pretty lengthy due to all these conflicting elements, and it took a long time for all the loose ends to be tied up. (You know how at the end of The Lord of the Rings movie there are like half a dozen points where you THINK the story is about to end, but then it just keeps right on a-going? Yeah, similar story here. Side note: I LOVE LOTR, I just thought it was a funny comparison!)

Altogether this was a tough book for me to review because I had so many conflicting opinions about it. Added to this, some of my hang-ups were personal, and while I wanted to stay true to myself and at least mention them, I didn't want them to bias my review. Still-- personal opinions aside-- the writing was awesome, the narrative and dialogue were wonderfully done, and the Gothic-Victorian elements made for a dark and creepy story that was very unique. It did feel to me a little drawn-out towards the end, and I didn't like some of the main characters' opinions. But overall I'm pretty sure that this book will appeal to most readers, and be thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining!

~Cover Talk~

I do like the cover for Darker Still-- I think that the deep purple background goes really well with the purple dress, and I like the glow coming from behind the model for Natalie. However, after reading the book, I think that the model, the dress and the cover all look too modern for the Gothic, Victorian themes and the old-fashioned narrative that the story was told through. The model is very pretty, but not at all how I would picture Natalie! Still, the whole effect is very eye-catching, and I think it will appeal to a lot of readers.

LC's Rating:
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Darker Still is a unique and imaginative story that mixes Gothic-Victorian tones with mystery and suspense. Despite some personal hang-ups that I had, I think this was very well-written and that most readers will really love it.



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16 comments:

  1. Fabulous review! This one has me very curious. I love gothic creepy novels. Good to know about the religious element in the novel, though. I don't usually enjoy that but I'll be prepared because I really want to read this.

    Giselle
    Xpresso Reads

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  2. I've heard mixed things about this book, so I'm debating on whether or not I'm going to read it. It seems like Netgalley books are sort of a fail for me most of the time too... so we shall see! Great review!

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  3. wow honest and very informative review! Honestly i hold my religion dearly to me so this might also bother me, also i don't think im that into the whole Gothic stuff, so i might just give this book a pass.

    Thanks for reviewing it!

    - juhina

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  4. Great review, I have been thinking about reading this one.

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  5. When I first saw the cover, I reminded me of Taylor Swift .

    lol

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  6. I hadn't heard of this book. It sounds like it would be great for this time of year.

    Thanks for the review.

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  7. Glad to see that you enjoyed this book, Lea! I have high hopes for it...it sounds so mysterious and Gothic. I can definitely see how the issues you had with it would influence your review; that can be so frustrating! But that's awesome that you still found things about it to like. :)

    Molli @ Once Upon a Prologue

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  8. Great, in-depth review! So hard to review a book that had parts you adored and parts you wish were handled slightly differently. I love the way you address both! I picked this up recently and am interested to see if I react the same ways you do! Great review =).

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  10. I'm very interested in Victorian literature and that's what drew me to this book. I haven't read it yet but I have it and hope to enjoy it! I really like your review!

    -Sarah
    Sarah's Shelf

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  11. Great review! Thank you for being so honest. I've had this on my tbr list for a while. I can't wait to pick it up. Thank you so much for giving everyone a heads up. I would feel the same way with you on the religious part. But I still think it sounds fabulous. Now I will just watch out for the things you mentioned.

    Thanks for sharing!

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  12. I've picked this one up of Netgalley as well and I agree the cover seems way more 1920's then Victorian to me (still pretty though). Loving the Dorian Gray theme to the story but a bit dubious about the negative representation of the male characters, really bugs me when writers leave characters as one dimensional. That said I love Victorian mysteries so sure I'll still enjoy it!

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  13. Interesting thoughts. I didn't pick up on the "male bashing" but understand now where you are coming from. I kind of liked the drawn out ending. So often people (and me) complain about abrupt endings and this was a refreshing change. Thanks for your critical analysis, I enjoyed it.

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  14. Great review! I got this a few weeks back, and have been really curious about reading it. Thank you for sharing your honest thoughts on the book!

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  15. Great review! I actually just reviewed this book this morning :)

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  16. I am like you, and prefer when there isn't faith or religion in books. I also refuse to rant about in my reviews because it is only my opinion. Everything else sounds great about this book though (except the dragging part) so I definitely want to check it out. Great review :)

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