You know that moment when you had such high hopes for a book but unfortunately those hopes aren’t exactly met in the way that you expected them to be? I hate those moments. Unfortunately, I had one of them recently with Darker Still by Leanna Renee Hieber. Admittedly, I was sold by the idea of it being a mixture A Picture of Dorian Grey and Dr. Jekyll & Mr, Hyde with a hint of romance but honestly, the things that I was almost immediately sold on for reading this book did not live up to their expectations for me at all.
Darker Still tells the story of Natalie Stewart, a young woman who hasn’t spoken since her mother’s death when she was four, and her unique relationship with Lord Denbury. It all starts when Natalie convinces her father, who is employed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, to work with the buyer of a distinctive painting to put that painting in the museum. The portrait of Lord Denbury had become renowned for its authentic image and potential supernatural traits but only Natalie is really able to discover the reality of the rumors. During her multiple visits to view the painting, she discovers that Lord Denbury’s good soul is trapped within the portrait and that a devil soul roams New York wearing Denbury’s body, and doing awful destructive things. Natalie decides that it is up to her to save his soul, but how will she do it? And will she succeed?
The basic concept of Darker Still held a lot of appeal for me. I really liked the idea of Natalie being able to travel into the painting. That was really neat. Also, the fact that her dreams were connected to the painting was a nice imagery about the soul and connections. I could also distinguish the different aspects of A Picture of Dorian Grey and Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde that were within the story. However, I could not for the life of me relate to the character of Natalie, and one hundred percent get behind her interactions with the man in the painting.
I wanted to like Natalie…really I did…but there was just something about her that I couldn’t relate to. On the surface, she sounded like an interesting character. She was a young woman who was a selective mute but being allowed to live a semi-normal life. She also held a strong love for art. It sounded like she would be a strong heroine character because of her perceived harder life due to her muteness but, this is just not the case. As a character, Natalie was very petty, and could not elicit even the slightest bit of sympathy from me. I also was not taken by her relationship with Lord Denbury either. It was very insta-love, and I did not find it romantic, or swoon worthy at all. In fact, I may have been doing a bit of eye rolling from time to time over it. Especially since I found it difficult for them to be so “involved” given the circumstances which they were facing, and the fact that the book was supposed to be set in the early nineteen century.
I think part of the reason why I didn’t have a strong connection to Natalie was because of the writing style within Darker Still. It felt very one dimensional to me, and I never felt that there was a point where I thinking “OH MY GOD! I HAVE TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS NEXT!” Even though it was mainly told in Natalie’s point of view, it didn’t grab my attention at all, especially with the overly detailed descriptions of the painting and other scenic design. This did nothing for me in terms of Natalie character. To me there is a time and a place for those types of things, and they just never fit into the story for me. It made the story very slow paced, which made me not necessarily care what happened to Lord Denbury, Natalie, or the painting.
I also had a hard time dealing with the way disability was handled in the book. Even though Natalie was given the freedom to live a semi-normal life, I still had a sense that the book was being written through a more ableist lens, and it was definitely a turn off for me. I understand that this may have been a decision by the author based on the time period but it still didn’t make reading the book any easier. I especially hated the way Natalie was so judgmental of other characters with disabilities once again making her unable to elicit any sympathy from me.
Overall, I was very apathetic towards Darker Still. It didn’t take me an overtly long time to read but I was just never truly invested. I know that there is a second book in the series which came out recently but honestly, I don’t think I will be checking it out. Some people may love the way that Leanna Renee Hieber writes this series and its characters but, I am not one of them. Simply put, this story had potential but it didn’t live up to it for me … at all.
Disclosure: Received finished copy at BEA
Other Reviews of Darker Still by Leanna Renee Hieber:
Coffee, Books, and Me: “Darker Still was a riveting mystery story… ”
I Devour Books: “I give Darker Still 4.5 out of five stars…”
A Reader of Fictions: “This book definitely ended up being rather meh…“