I admit, with a subtitle like “A Novel of Magic Most Foul,” I had to resist the temptation to mock this book outright. Thankfully, Leanna Renee Hieber’s novel Darker Still (Sourcebooks, November) offers a bit more substance than this melodramatic teaser of a subtitle. In it, Natalie Stewart, a mute Victorian-era teenager, chronicles the supernatural events leading up to her disappearance.
Having suffered a traumatic event at an early age, Natalie, a middle-class seventeen-year old living in 1880 New York City, has lost her ability to speak… in this world, at least. Natalie is pulled into the supernatural realm, first (figuratively) by a wealthy spiritualist, Mrs. Northe, and later (literally) by the allure of eighteen-year-old Lord Denbury—a nobleman trapped in a life-size oil painting by black magic. In her journey to free her beloved Lord Denbury from his cursed frame, Natalie struggles to gain control of her reality, find her voice, and deal with the plight of falling in love with a two-dimensional image.
Despite my initial misgivings, I found myself drawn into Hieber’s tale. Apart from the occasional awkwardly scripted romance scene, the novel effectively engages the reader with imaginative description and an unpredictable adventure. The epistolary structure, composed of diary entries and letters, guides the reader through the tale in satisfying increments. Although main plot points are told retrospectively, Natalie’s detailed (and period-appropriate) narrative effortlessly drives the action of the story. Readers will revel in the quest to decode magical clues alongside this unassuming heroine.