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Darker Still: A Novel of Magic Most Foul by Leanna Renee Hieber
Review by Mel Jacob
Sourcebooks Fire Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 9781402260520
Date: 08 November 2011 List Price $8.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /

Heiber specializes in misfits and the Victorian period. Her first YA book features 17 year-old Natalie Stewart, mute from age four, when her mother was killed in a tale of horror and murder. A beautiful painting of a young English lord is up for sale and she falls in love with the image in the portrait, but an evil doppelganger of the man is killing young women with saint's names.

Natalie meets a rich woman who plans to purchase the painting and hang it in the Metropolitan to keep it from the hands of evil men bent on using it to create mischief. Mrs. Northe, the woman, is a spiritualist who senses auras including Natalie's and befriends her. Natalie's father is an official of the New York Metropolitan Museum and she manages to obtain a courtesy position of acquisitions assistant. This gives her ready access to the mysterious portrait.

Then, Natalie discovers she can enter the painting and speak with the man, but he can't leave the frame. The evil doppelganger keeps him prisoner and taunts him with the crimes committed. Each murder saps the man's energy and mars his appearance.

Determined to free him, Natalie and her friend try to learn all they can about how he was enchanted and how they might free him. Mrs. Northe's niece is jealous of Natalie and wants to reach the man herself, but hides this from her aunt.

The doppelganger accosts Natalie and taunts her, but she recognizes he is different from the man she loves. While Natalie and the man in the painting exchange kisses and caresses there is no overt sex. In her efforts to track the doppelganger and save the lives of prostitutes from him, Natalie in disguise visits an opium den and tries to send one potential victim, a fellow mute, away.

Mrs. Northe's examination of the markings on the frame helps identify parts of the curse. Inside the painting, Natalie seeks more information from the man. She also trails the doppelganger. If she and Mrs. Northe can't resolve the curse, the man may die. The spiritualist also fears for Natalie's safety.

An actress, playwright, and successful author, Heiber's Strangely Beautiful series was set in Victorian London and The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker is being adapted as a Broadway musical. With Darker Still, she shifts to New York and to YA.

The novel is in the form of Natalie's diary entries. This device occasionally spoils some of the suspense. The author readily acknowledges the influence of Oscar Wilde, Edgar Allen Poe, and Robert Stevenson on her novel. The language is suitable for all ages.

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