Darker Still by Leanna Renee Hieber

Hey, I'm probably going to go back and update this later, but I'm trying out a simpler approach on my blog. Same reviews, but cutting down the headline space. There also was originally more in this review, but it didn't save my previous draft, so I had to re-add what I remembered. If you don't like it, tell me in the comments and I'll go back later and put in the information or leave a link if you're curious about the stats for this book.

Release Date: November 1, 2011

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Format: ARC

Source: Inkwood

The Picture of Dorian Gray meets Pride and Prejudice, with a dash of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.New York City, 1882. Seventeen-year-old Natalie Stewart's latest obsession is a painting of the handsome British Lord Denbury. Something in his striking blue eyes calls to her. As his incredibly life-like gaze seems to follow her, Natalie gets the uneasy feeling that details of the painting keep changing...Jonathan Denbury's soul is trapped in the gilded painting by dark magic while his possessed body commits unspeakable crimes in the city slums. He must lure Natalie into the painting, for only together can they reverse the curse and free his damaged soul.

Darker Still was a darkly entertaining read.The year is 1882, and it's in New York City. Natalie struggles with the fierce and frustrating reality of being mute. As a woman in that time period, to be mute was almost condemning you to remain husband-less and it's hard to make a living. Her father works for the Met. She hasn't been able to speak since her mother's death.She doesn't have any friends. She can't even communicate with her father in sign language, because he doesn't know it. She is in all sense of the word, alone.After witnessing a humiliating joke at her expense, Natalie is more determined than ever to make something out of her life. When Natalie hears about a painting, she knows exactly what she has to do.This particular painting is not just a painting. It is the likeness of a lord so skillfully wrought, so exquisite, that it makes everybody feel as if he is in the room. Women would swoon at the sight of the painting, at Denbury's eyes boring into their own. The very essence of him is in that painting and it is so intense that you couldn't help but be captivated. Natalie is another one of those girls.She knows that she must get the painting for the Met. It would increase traffic, bring purpose to her life, and she just wants to sit in the presence of that painting. What museum would the Met be if they didn't stake a claim?So she contacts Mrs. Northe, the woman most likely to get the painting. She knows that they don't dare bid against her, so she enlists her help in letting the museum borrow it. The confidante and motherly figure that she discovers in Mrs. Northe, a spiritualist, is not what she expected.Mrs. Northe knows sign language, and doesn't give Natalie the awful look that most do. The look that occurs when people first realize her condition and a look of judgement and disgust passes over their faces. Mrs. Northe educates her, and teaches her about the darker parts of being a spiritualist.When Natalie discovers that Denbury is alive, and IN the painting, she knows that she must get him out. She's the only one who can go into the painting and visit him, and when she's there, she can speak. In the painting, she finds freedom while he is captured. He is withering away from a curse that a demon put on him to keep him tracked, and that same demon prowls the streets, killing young girls.Before any more girls are murdered, Natalie must save Denbury from the painting. How exactly can she break the curse and what will happen when the demon finds out about it?This book reminded me of a Gothic version of Warped by Maurissa Guibord. It was very dark and twisted, while still not succumbing to the freaky over-action that some scarier books do. It had a very nice balance of dark action and lore and soul-searching of Natalie.I've heard a lot of reviews comparing this book to The Picture of Dorian Gray. I have never read that book, so I wouldn't know. Although I can feel a lot of the influence from classics in this book. Leanna Renee Hieber manages to draw some comparisons and essences of those books mentioned: Pride and Prejudice, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.Natalie was such a strong personality, although not many people got to see it. She was alone, and I felt so bad for her. I couldn't help but get annoyed at the people around her who acted like she was deaf. They said things that they wouldn't have in front of anybody else, knowing she couldn't respond. Some of it was accidental, but she has feelings too!Because Natalie doesn't really use dialogue that much, her internal monologues are much more formal than you'd expect. The entire book is basically one big monologue. If you're not one for the...not necessarily "tighter" speaking, but not the loose and easy communication that we associate with speech...then this book probably isn't for you.She was looking for a mother figure and found it in Mrs. Northe. Mrs. Northe was probably one of my favorite supporting characters that I've read about. She understood what Natalie was going through even though she hadn't experienced it first hand, and her wisdom showed through everything she said and did. She helped Natalie feel like she belonged in the world that everybody tried to push her out of, and I was so proud of her for that.Natalie needed somebody to learn from, and to look up to. Everybody needs somebody like that. Mrs. Northe was that person to Natalie. She was wise and kind and clear in her thoughts and actions. She was exactly what Natalie needed.Denbury, however, I was not the biggest fan of. I've heard many reviews simply praising Denbury. I started to like him towards the beginning of the book but then he just got irritating for me. There have been many girls out there saying that they loved Denbury, but I am not one of them. In fairy tales, the prince is supposed to be Prince CHARMING. As in, nice.Although he was a very attractive man and his (dwindling) charisma leapt off the page (and the painting!), some of his meaner moments stuck out to me. He blamed a lot of it on the demon, and although the demon had influenced him a lot, we didn't get to see the change in him at the end of the book. I mean, he was good throughout the book, but there'd be incidents where he'd be a complete jerk, and no jerk will ever grab my heart in a book.I wished that at the end, we would have seen him more because although the conflict WAS ABOUT HIM, we didn't see him much in the resolution. He was charming, but not my favorite character. He could have been nicer.There was also a lot of prejudice in this book. Based on class, gender, and disabilities, the society was not very forgiving. First of all, class was very heavily relied on. If you were poor, you were trash. Now this is not very new to that time period and literature featuring this time period, but I think that that was a factor especially in this one because of the murders occurring in this book. The victims were mostly from brothels and the streets in the poorer section of town.Gender was a large factor too because of course, this was before the women's rights movement. Everything usually depended on how well you married. Mrs. Northe was one of the few very powerful women in the story. It was only strong, rich women who could make their way in the world.To be a mute man then was devastating and crippling. To be a mute woman was another thing. You were almost powerless. Most people made no effort to even communicate with you and most people didn't act as if Natalie could hear them either. They acted as if she weren't in the room, and I thought that it was so sad to hear about. There was this look that Natalie talked about in her journal.This look symbolized everything that hurt her. When people first realized what she was, they had this look of disgust and confusion. They felt like deer-in-the-headlights and found themselves fumbling for what to say and do around her. She had to write everything she wanted to say because nobody except for Mrs. Northe and the people at the asylum knew what she wanted to say.The history in this book was alluring to say the least. The full amount of research obviously invested into this novel was evident by the confidence in which the legends were created. The church was talked about a lot, but not in a preachy way. It was honestly important to the story. The biblical stories and the saints and the history was all backed up and tied into the story very nicely.I did like the demonic part. The thing about demon books is that the same plotline can get really overdone. The battle between heaven and hell can get kind of old after awhile, as literature goes. There's only so much that you can do without ripping off somebody else's story.  We simply explored the dark nature of this demon and the twisted things that he did.I'm not usually a one for outlining in my personal writing, but Leanna made it work so well. The pure organization of events in this novel shows us that she outlined, or at least, had some way of organizing them really well (I want her secret!). I just remember thinking throughout the book that the outlining was wonderful, and it was so organized, with a lot of content.The format was wonderful to read. It started with a letter from a police chief, and the body of the novel was written in journal format, and it also ended with a letter and a warning. I love it when authors mix up the format and it worked really well in this. This type of format is hardly ever seen in YA lit. The last book that I read that was similar to this format was Angus, Thongs, and Full Frontal Snogging.I actually really like the journal format, not because it was mixed up, but because I think it adds a more personal touch. It seemed like we were more intimate with Natalie and could see her thoughts better. Most books are simply written like a story, and it's not as if we are confiding more with Natalie. We get to see her side of things completely, and her thoughts, as opposed to just telling us the story.I must admit that I just picked this up looking for a satisfying read. It looked like the type of book that'd be good but not amazing, but as I got into it, I was surprised to see how it played out.The writing...ah the writing! Gorgeous description all throughout; fierce and sharp wit; the pacing. It was all perfect. Not only was Natalie thoughtful, but when you got down to it, one of her weapons was her dry humor. It was very entertaining to say the least.The ending was utterly brilliant. There was intrigue and darkness and danger that all led into an explosive conclusion. This book should really be spotlighted more in reviews because the ending is fantastic! Everything was tied together perfectly and made it a single book with no loose ends.Recommended for anybody who loves: Personal Demons; Warped; Beautiful Creatures; Haunting Violet; Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; Dracula; Pride and Prejudice; The Picture of Dorian Gray; dark Gothic reads; historical fiction; etc,.Possible book club questions:How is Natalie stifled?Have you ever had trouble finding your voice? What helped you get past that? How do you think this related to Natalie's experience in this book?How did religion affect this book?Why do you think Natalie's father never bothered to learn ASL?How does prejudice change throughout this book as Natalie falls into the friendship of Mrs. Northe?What is your opinion about Denbury?Why do you think the mute population is not spotlighted more in literature? Do you think this book may help change that?etc,.