May 29, 2012

Gothic romance horror mystery

Darker Still: A Novel of Magic Most Foul
by Leanna Renee Hieber

For fans of historical romances, especially those set in Victorian times, here is a novel sure to get their hearts beating. Written in diary form, the story is told by Natalie Stewart, who is bewitched by a painting of one Lord Denbury, presumed dead by drowning. But, as Natalie soon discovers, Denbury is still alive - and trapped in the painting. Meanwhile, the man who has ensnared him has taken Denbury's likeness and is murdering prostitutes in London. Natalie must find a way to break the curse before she becomes the murderer's next victim.

The danger is made more acute by Natalie's inability to speak. She can only speak when she's in the presence of Lord Denbury, whom she is able to visit by actually going inside the painting. Having been inexorably drawn to the painting, it's inevitable that Natalie and Jonathon (Denbury's first name) fall in love, though it takes a long time before they touch lips. Natalie must enter and exit the painting many times before she figures out a way to destroy the demon Denbury. She is aided in her task by Evelyn Northe, the painting's owner. Mrs. Northe is also a spiritualist, and knows a great deal about magical symbols and curses.

Hieber builds up the horror and tension quite well, and has created a brave heroine in Natalie, who is not as timid or as helpless as she appears. The diary format works well for the most part, but you do have to wonder how Natalie is able to write while in the midst of covert activities. It also means that she carries the diary everywhere, which surely would be a problem if she were to lose it. Her descriptions of Jonathon Denbury make him out as an Edward Cullen-type, but without the fangs. A possible rival for his affections is Mrs. Northe's niece, Maggie, but she isn't really put to good use. Mrs. Northe is pretty dismissive of her and Natalie doesn't really like her, so she ends up behaving like the stereotypical spoiled rich girl. There were hints that Maggie could have been a potential murder victim, but in the end she was simply a distraction.

Since a few questions were left hanging, namely why Denbury was targeted in the first place, and what he and Natalie will do next, be assured that Hieber has already penned a sequel, and perhaps another one as well.

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