Redonk Nutshell: A young mute woman is lured by a darkly enchanted portrait of a British Lord

Done with boarding school, Natalie Stewart returns into her father’s care in 1882 New York City.  She hasn’t spoken since she was four years old, the age when her mother died in a carriage accident.  Natalie is beautiful and intelligent, though she struggles to find her purpose in the world seeing as that everyone around her, save her father, sees her muteness as a complete disability.  When Natalie comes across a stunning portrait rumored to be haunted, she finds herself unable to turn away.  When the portrait changes before her eyes, she’s even more stunned. The handsome lord seemed to be willing her toward him, almost as if pleading for her help.

Ah. You know my love of all things Gothic. Darker Still is more or less a mash up of The Picture of Dorian Grey, Jekyll & Hyde, and a dash of Ann Radcliffe. It’s the embodiment of a Gothic novel, all dark, dangerous and romantic.  It’s quite lovely.  Ms. Heiber weaves a wonderful story and it’s hard to put the book down once we’re drawn in.

Natalie possess what most Gothic heroines have – curiosity.  Luckily for her, she’s also wickedly smart.  Our hero, Lord Jonathon Denbury, is the perfect Gothic hero.  Strikingly handsome, he is also the epitome of a gentleman, though he struggles with a dark side as a result of his cursed imprisonment within the portrait.

Most Gothic novels have a certain “feel” for me – dark, haunted, lush, and mysterious – and Darker Still embraced that tone from page one.  I loved that it was set in New York City – can we say Gangs of New York  anyone? Go Five Points!  Ha! I also was pleased that our heroine was anything but a simpering miss.  She stood her ground and had no issues making her opinion known, regardless of the fact she couldn’t speak.

I think it’s safe to say that Mother Monster of Gothic Fiction Ann Radcliffe would have approved.

Darker Still: A Novel of Magic Most Foul by Leanna Renee Hieber, 320 pgs, 11/1/11

Rating: B

Romance: 3/5          Raunch: 1/5

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