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.
Paperback, 320 pages
Published November 8th 2011 by Sourcebooks Fire
For Natalie Stewart destiny is scrawled across the morning paper's headlines. A story and a photo of a painting capture her attention. It is the handsome portrait of a Lord Denbury, who is reported to have committed suicide in England. Rumors swirl thick around the picture, some believe that it is haunted and that the essence of the young man is trapped inside. Our mute heroine, Natalie is immediately drawn to the painting. She endeavors to gently prod her father, a museum curator, into purchasing the work for the Metropolitan Museum in New York City. A few furiously scribbled notes later he is convinced but it seems there are others interested in the mysterious painting. With the aid of a wealthy widow, Mrs. Northe, the masterpiece is procured and Natalie soon finds herself plunged into a strange, supernatural mystery. There is foul magic afoot. Natalie inexplicably is able to enter into the painting and indeed trapped inside is the soul of the striking, Jonathan Denbury; while his corporal body is possessed by the very demon that ensnared him. Natalie is absorbed in a race against time to shatter the curse to free Denbury and halt the horrific murders that are committed by the demonic possessor of Lord Denbury's body. Each time she plunges into the painting she leaves a bigger piece of her heart behind. She has fallen hopelessly in love with the cursed Jonathon Denbury. Will she be able to break the evil spell and save the man she has lost her heart to?
What I Liked:
*I enjoyed the setting of New York in 1880 (the description of the novel at the time of this review states the story takes place in 1882, this is an error for the book starts in June of 1880) it is in the years when the United States is coming out from under the dark, bloody years of the Civil War. New York is bustling with activity and with an ever-growing fascination with the mystical and spiritualism. I was intrigued by the ideas put forth in this novel regarding the occult. It was a time when individuals were more open minded and willing to accept the possibility of supernatural explanations. An era when people openly dabbled in the world of spirits and tried to open lines of communication through seances and ouija boards. This time provides the perfect backdrop for the novel.
*The characters in this book are unique. Natalie, the lead heroine, is notable by the loss of her voice. As a young child she witnessed a traumatic accident that stole her mother and her ability to speak. She has spent thirteen years trapped as a mute. This is the first time that I encountered a voiceless protagonist. Don't let the lack of speech fool you; Natalie is determined, headstrong, a quick scribe and adept in sign language. I was delighted in the way she finds her voice. This novel provides a candid look at the many obstacles someone with disabilities faced in the past. My favorite character was Mrs. Northe, she immediately becomes Natalie's fast friend. She is intelligent, open minded, a spiritualist and willing to acknowledge the whisperings of the supernatural. A forward thinking and capable woman in a male dominated society. Jonathon Denbury, he is a gentlemen, dashingly handsome, charming, noble and a caring healer. It is easy to see why he holds such sway over the ladies even as a painting. I am certain he will set many hearts a flutter.
*The premise of the book, a haunted painting; one that entraps a man's soul. This was a novel and creative story. I liked the idea of Natalie being able to dive into the painting. I also appreciated that the book was told through the writings in Natalie's journal, letters and newspaper clippings. This concept married well with Natalie's handicap; the diary is Natalie's voice.
And The Not So Much:
*I was so excited to read this book, the idea of a painting coming to life. As I delved into the pages I found that at times the pacing of the story ambled along. It took a long time before the pace moved to a jog and it isn't until the last couple of chapters that it speeds to a running finish. Due to the slow unfurling I had a hard time staying engaged in the plot. Perhaps it was just me.
*I was left confused about two characters. The conniving Crenfall, who underhandedly helped entrap Denbury. I was unclear over his ultimate role; was he possessed by the same demon or was he under a compulsion spell? I was also unsure of Mrs. Northe's niece, Maggie. Upon first meeting there is some foreshadowing whirling around her and Mrs. Northe's disapproving looks and annoyance indicated that she was headed towards something problematic or a possibly dark enterprise but alas it did not come to fruition. She does make a bumbling attempt at a seance during an inopportune, climatic moment in the story but her role is left unfinished. I have a feeling that perhaps her involvement has not ended. I certainly hope so because her thread is left hanging.
*I did not like the participation of the police detective. I am not sure what the purpose of his voice was in the plot but it felt out of place to me.
*This is labeled as a young adult title but due to the graphic murder scenes and mature themes, I think this is a novel better suited for mature young adult readers.
Darker Still is a captivating glance into a bygone era. A world of spiritualism and supernatural possibility. Grab Lord Denbury's hand and dip into his painting. Follow Natalie as she navigates the streets of New York chasing a demon. This is an intriguing adventure that immerses you into the world of the occult. The door is left ajar to continue the tales of Natalie and Jonathan, who knows what trouble lurks ahead for the two lovebirds.
"I was lost in the music of him."
"Perhaps the Devil knows when a man could do great things and stops him from them. Wreaking havoc in his path instead."
"It would take a very wise young woman to know that she shouldn't always trust a fairy tale."
"A soul without purpose withers."
"Great things may not change the world, but they will change the lives around you."