Student Book Review: Darker Still by Leanna Renee Hieber

I assigned the second set of book reviews in my Y.A. Lit class, which means it’s time to feature a new student book review.  My student, Zach, was telling me about books he’s read and enjoyed when we were discussing his trimester project and thinking about potential books to read.  Once he mentioned enjoying The Picture of Dorian Gray, I immediately handed him Darker Still by Leanna Renee Hieber.  I wasn’t sure if it would be for him, but based on his book review and his book talk, I know he enjoyed it.

Title: Darker Still

Author: Leanna Renee Hieber

Student Reviewer: Zach H.

Summary (From Goodreads):

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.

Student Review:

Everyone has believed in the concept of spirituality at least once in their lives. Well, even if one is not a believer currently, they will become one after reading Darker Still. I was drawn to this book originally because I had heard that it was inspired by Oscar Wilde’s groundbreaking novel The Picture of Dorian Gray. Having enjoyed Wilde’s novel not even a month before, I was eager for a new twist on the story. By the time I finished this book, I determined that it wasn’t only a unique twist on Wilde’s story, but surpassed it in terms of an engaging story as well.

Darker Still follows Natalie Stewart, an eighteen-year old girl who has been mute ever since her mother died years earlier. Over time, she feels extremely drawn to a painting of the handsome Lord Denbury, who supposedly committed suicide. However, Natalie comes to find out that Denbury is still alive and trapped in the painting, having fallen backwards into a plot that is so much bigger than simple magickry. At the core of this captivating tale is a very engaging plot which I would love to elaborate upon, but sadly can’t.

Besides the plot, the characters were what really sold the story in Darker Still, especially Natalie, Denbury, and Mrs. Northe. For instance, seeing the whole events of the story from Natalie’s point of view was quite fascinating, mainly due to the fact that, being mute, she sees the world and handles interactions differently from the average Jane. Denbury, on the other hand, provides a tender and loving air that exudes strength even when things seem most dark. Additionally, Mrs. Northe serves as an excellent supporting protagonist as her knowledge of most things supernatural makes her the perfect helper to both Natalie and Denbury despite the increasingly dark situation.

Despite how good the plot and characters are, like all great novels, Darker Still does have its occasional drawbacks. For example, some of the characters, such as Maggie, are so wooden and unimportant that I feel the novel could have gotten along perfectly well without them. I was also disappointed that Natalie’s father wasn’t fleshed out too much considering the fact that her mother is dead. If the novel could have focused just a little bit more on Natalie’s relationship with her father, I would’ve felt just a bit more emotionally attached. Additionally, I didn’t like how the whole novel is basically a diary kept by Natalie recounting the events because it sometimes it showed a feeling of emotional detachment from Natalie. Not always, but just enough.

Despite these significant shortcomings, Darker Still is a very good book. The often disturbingly detailed imagery and prose leaps off of almost every single page. I would highly recommend this novel to anyone who likes a good, mystery, or even supernatural fiction. Darker Still is a novel for everyone.

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