Title/Author: Darker Still by Leanna Renee Hiebel.
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire.
Favorite character: Ms. Northe.
Synopsis: 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. ~Goodreads.com
My thoughts: Darker Still is a whimsical romp through a dangerous situation. The story is told in the first person viewpoint of Natalie Stewart through her diary. Natalie is a mute girl who lives in Victorian New York City and has just graduated from a "school" for youths like her including the deaf and blind. Once home, she quickly becomes embroiled in a mystery about a painting featuring a young Englishman, Lord Denbury. She is a likeable character and I especially loved when she had petulant, selfish thoughts (especially about her crush's fiance). They translated as very honest yet amusing. There are parts of the diary, however, that I would have preferred to experience as they were happening instead of being told after the fact. That being said, I also thought this was a clever way to present her story.
Natalie wants to make a place for herself in the world and be useful. When she joins her father in his occupation working at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, she is thrilled. However, the infamous portrait leads her into darkness and magic. With the help of Ms. Northe, who becomes her mentor and friend, they unlock the mystery of how to release the real Lord Denbury from his enchanted prison painting while stopping the murders of his doppelganger. Natalie shows a lot of guts and ingenuity on her quest that I admired.
I absolutely love Ms. North, the elder medium and spiritualist who takes Natalie under her wing. She is so much fun and classy. Someone you'd always want to back you up. I also enjoyed Natalie's relationship with her father. It is very sweet and she is so grateful to him for respecting her and taking care of her instead of casting her out.
The setting of NYC was fantastic for me personally. I loved being able to see familiar sites that are still there (Central Park, The Met) and scenes that are exclusive to those times (carriages, cobblestone streets, opium dens.) I even learned a think or two about NY history (Five points). I thought Hieber brought the City alive with her descriptions, yet I would have liked to have seen more.
Although the insta love is very present, it also seems excused by the fact that Natalie appears to recognize her kindred spirit within the painting. Unfortunately, I didn't connect with their relationship, and honestly, I didn't connect with Lord Denbury either. There is nothing wrong with him per se...and I gess that's the issue. I felt he was too good to be true. There were also parts where Natalie and Lord Denbury could interact in her dreams. I didn't see how these interludes were any different from the ones where she interacted with him in the painting, except they had a bit more paranormal activity attached.
The mystery itself and how they research and break the curse is a bit confusing to me. Although I don't mind when something takes pieces from several religions, it just didn't work for me. The victims had to do with Saints, but then there was ancient Egyptian magic as well and demons too. I think if things were a bit more grounded, a bit more explained, I would have been able to suspend my disbelief a bit more as well.
Even though the main problem in this book is solved, there is still plenty of evil to contend with in the future for Natalie and Denbury.
All in all: Although not all aspects of the story worked for me, I still found the overall theme and plot interesting. The characters are worth meeting and the setting is wonderful. I think future adventures for Natalie will be even more intriguing.