Leanna Renee Hieber
Publication date: November 8th, 2011
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Source: Book Exchange
Purchase: The Book Depository • Amazon
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.
There are some books that linger with you long after you finish it's last pages, and books that end when the book ends. Darker Still was one of the latter. With all it's talk of mysterious deaths and a lord trapped behind a painting, and a girl with a strange gift to travel between these two worlds, Darker Still didn't stand out. I'm still trying to decide where I stand with this book. It had it's good points and bad points, and did make for a fresh, quick read. It's easily forgettable, filled with areas to nitpick, but isn't by any means terrible, or a horrible read. Darker Still just... was.
Ever since her mother passed away, Natalie Stewart couldn't say a word. Now, older, and freshly out of the Connecticut Asylum, she's unsure of what to do with her life, her options limited by her condition. That is, until she reads about the mysterious Lord Denbury portrait, the subject of whom it was said to have committed suicide right after commissioning the portrait. Her interest sparked, she convinces her father to request it to be loaned to them. But after a visit to see the painting, strange things start occurring - girls are murdered, she bumps into a man who bears an uncanny resemblance to Lord Danbury, and pieces of the painting start changing. When a single touch brings her - literally - tumbling headfirst into Lord Denbury's prison, it's all confirmed - Lord Denbury never died. The man - and murderer - whom people claimed to look exactly like Lord Denbury wasn't him. The murders are linked. And, from here on out, the murders and the magic that binds Lord Denbury to his framed prison will only get fouler.
(Sorry - I couldn't help it! :P)
In the first few pages, Natalie Stewart's voice was strong, she stood up for herself when mocked, and things seemed to be going amazingly character-wise. But then a few chapters in, her strength seems to start fading. She almost shrinks back, and instead takes to blushing and keeping her head down and becomes the meek, love-sick girl she'd laughed at in the first few chapters. Her voice becomes really girly, and she also giggled a lot, and "physically restrains" herself from doing naughty things with Lord Denbury whenever she visits him. After a few pages of gushing and swooning, I began skipping the intimate, Natalie-and-Lord-Denbury moments. Because they're supposed to be discussing demons and magic, breaking him out of his prison and saving the murdered girls, but instead it's all oh-my-god-i'll-die-without-eating-your-face-off and let's-do-the-horizontal-tango-even-though-we've-only-known-each-other-for-a-few-days moments.
I think my main issue with the story, though, is that there was nothing to convince Natalie to risk her life to help Lord Denbury and unravel the mysteries behind the painting - nothing but her obsession for him. And that alone doesn't seem like a good enough reason to risk your live over and over again. It just doesn't.
The characters were really flat, and didn't seem to have any depth to them. Lord Denbury stayed the handsome, mysterious lord. Natalie was girly, obsessed with a painting and a man she only knew for a few days, and flightly. Mrs. Northe seemed to have been written into the story just so she could nudge Natalie in all the right directions, devoiding Darker Still of a proper plotline. Natalie's father came in every few chapters so she could walk all over him, or provide her with something she wanted. They all had their purposes, and none of them were there without reason, but none of them really came off the page, either, or felt real. And, for some of them, their reasons weren't crucial to the story, and I feel like half of the character cast could've really been cut out.
If you were to draw out Darker Still's plotline, it wouldn't look like an upwards slope, a climax point, and then a downwards slope to it's conclusion. No - Darker Still's plotline would be one straight line, angling up only slightly, with bumps scattered every so often just to keep the story going. Everything that happened in the story seemed muted. Sometimes, I turn on the TV or my iPod and lower the volume while I do stuff, just to have some background noise in an otherwise silent house. I don't really pay attention to the music or the TV - it's just there for company. That's what the events that happened in Darker Still felt like. The main thing seemed to be Natalie and Lord Denbury, and their intense feelings for each other - everything else from the murders to the demon and the "magic most foul" faded to background music and barely-audible TV shows.
It wasn't all bad, though, and like I said - Darker Still had some good points. The tense, gothic, historical aura was heavy in this novel, and I truly felt like I was reading something from the 18th century. I liked how the author tied together different types of mythology into the creation of the demon's spells, and the reason why the demons selected the girls he did was an interesting surprise. In fact, the scenes that did focus on unraveling the demon, thepainting's mysteries, and cooking up spells to save Lord Denbury (the ones without him in it) were engaging and entertaining, and that was the reason I kept reading.
I would also venture to say that the diary format - usually a hit or miss for me - worked well, though it didn't really feel like a book written in diary format - just a regular book with diary-format chapter headings, if that makes any sense.
The ending wraps everything up nicely, though predictable. It's a satisfying ending - you get your answers, little glimpses at what the characters might be doing in the future, and that's that.
PROS: Intriguing idea; the 18th century feel; the demon (spells, reasons, etc.); the diary format(?).
CONS: The story focused too much on the romance; the characters and plot felt flat; who would risk their lives for a man they barely know anything about, a man who, for all Natalie knew at the time, could be a murderer? :/
OVERALL: Darker Still was a decent read. Though, from my rant-heavy paragraphs, it might seem like I strongly disliked Darker Still, I didn't. I found some parts of it to be entertaining and worth reading on for, though there was quite a few not-so-good points. Darker Still makes the "meh" shelf. Although, I think this little snippet from Darker Still makes for a great conclusion to my review:
"Should you wish to indulge yourself and read a young lady's foolish reveries on such highly improbably events, so be it."
At the very least, you'll have a pretty cover on your shelves.