Genre: YA Fantasy/Historical Fiction
Pub. Date: November 8, 2011
Source: Publisher for review
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Goodreads says, "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."Miss Natalie Stewart is your somewhat typical girl living in Manhattan in the 1800s. Unfortunately, her mother died tragically and Natalie witnessed it, which led to her being selectively mute. She hasn't spoken in years and although she knows sign language well, her father doesn't and most people aren't sure how to deal with her. That is until she meets Mrs. Northe, a very rich spiritualist, who also knows sign language and they it it off immediately. Natalie finds out about a mysterious portrait of Lord Denbury who committed suicide, which is upsetting to most young girls of marrying age as he is extremely good looking. Many people want this portrait, because it is rumored to be haunted and Mrs. Northe doesn't want it to fall into the wrong hands, so she acquires it herself. Natalie finds out the most startling thing. She can actually enter Denbury's portrait and when she does, she has her voice! She finds out that Denbury didn't actually commit suicide, but rather he is trapped inside of his portrait due to some extremely evil magic. Natalie must figure out a way to save Denbury and her heart as well, because she has fallen for him. Leanna Renee Hieber's Darker Still is an imaginative read that fans of historical fiction and fantasy will like, especially those who enjoy gothic tales.
Natalie Stewart is an interesting protagonist as she is selectively mute. Darker Still is told through her journal entries, which I thought was especially fun. Having a protagonist that is selectively mute makes for an interesting situation as most characters think she is "deaf and dumb", when in fact, she isn't and they make the mistake of whispering secrets in front of her. Natalie has been dealt a tough hand in life, but thankfully has a supportive father who didn't cast her away upon finding out that she is mute after the accident that took her mother's life. Her relationship with Mrs. Northe is also one of my favorite aspects of the book, especially because Natalie not only learned about spiritualism through her, but also was able to have a real friend who could sign and communicate with.
When Natalie meets Lord Denbury through the painting it is a serious case of insta-love since she is Denbury's only connection with the outside world and Natalie is pretty much obsessed with him. Darker Still has many aspects of the gothic novel, so when it comes to Natalie and Denbury's relationship, there's a lot leading up to simply handholding and a forbidden kiss. This is the 1800s after all and Natali tries desperately to be respectable even if it is hard to resist dreamy Denbury.
I don't handle a lot of dark or scary reads too well and there were a few moments in Darker Still that creeped me out, such as demons possessing bodies, evil magic, murder, scary dreams, etc, but I stuck it out and I was glad I did, because I think Hieber did a good job with the action and suspense in Darker Still. There was a good mix of a lot of gothic elements and it wasn't overly dark, which I appreciated.
Although Darker Still isn't a perfect read by any means, it was entertaining nonetheless and the ending sets readers up for the sequel, The Twisted Tragedy of Miss Natalie Stewart, which I definitely plan on reading as well. So, if you are a fan of gothic literature, check out Darker Still; in fact, the e-book is on sale now for $2.99, which is definitely a deal!