In Darker Still, the year is 1880. Seventeen-year-old Natalie Stewart has just finished boarding school and has returned to her New York home, awaiting what her father will do with her next. She’s mute, and knows she doesn’t have many prospects in terms of marriage or a family. The best she can hope for is being sent to a convent.
Told through diary entries, Natalie’s story takes a turn when a strange and alluring painting makes its way to the Metropolitan Museum, where her father is curator. As Natalie is recruited into the acquisitions department, she hears about how the subject of the painting, a young British lord, mysteriously disappeared one day, and the cause is considered to be suicide.
As Natalie spends more and more time with the painting, she realises that Lord Denbury is trapped inside the painting, and it is only Natalie who can go through and save him. Trapped there after a demon took over his body, Lord Denbury begs Natalie to help him escape his prison and Natalie agrees, since she seems to find her voice inside the painting. But as the demon continues his dark prowls through the city, Natalie becomes in danger of being found out…and also of losing her heart.
Unlike the last book that I read, which also claimed to be set in the Victorian Era, Darker Still actually does take place in the Victorian Era. Hieber has actually done research, and its definitely apparent in her descriptions of how Natalie behaves and the descriptions of New York City.
Natalie isn’t a heroine like many others. For one thing, she’s mute. This made for a different kind of personal struggle, and it was refreshing to read about, instead of the usual flights of fancy that other YA heroines seem to have. She’s also rather sensible, especially when in danger of losing her heart to a stranger. Unlike many other YA heroines, Natalie doesn’t fall headfirst into love, abandoning all logic and reason. She is careful and cautious, and recognizes that she barely knows Lord Denbury as she starts to obsess about him.
The obvious influence of the book is The Picture of Dorian Gray, a classic Victorian novel. And while I haven’t actually read the whole thing, the parallels between a young man being trapped in a painting is pretty obvious. But while Wilde’s wildly popular classic begged many questions of identity, morals, and appearances, Hieber’s book doesn’t venture much in that direction. From the description, I was expecting slightly more depth and darkness, but there isn’t much.
I think my biggest problem with this book was the voice of the narrator. Natalie isn’t too young, she’s all of seventeen, yet her voice read like much younger for me. I’m not sure if this is because I’ve become accustomed to reading YA heroines who actually talk and act like adults, but this read more like a middle-grade book to me, rather than a YA.
And there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m sure this is a book that I would have adored when I was younger, but now that I’m in my twenties, I expected a bit more depth and complexity, which I didn’t quite find in this.
But other than that, there was absolutely nothing wrong with this book.The story was well-paced and Hieber is a skilled writer. There’s plenty of mystery and unanswered questions to keep you guessing, although it doesn’t make you keep flipping through. It’s more of a slower, measured read.
So for that: 3/5.
Thanks for reading.
‘Till next time,
P.S- in blog related news, you might have noticed that I changed the background. I was getting kind of tired of it, so decided to switch it up. Hope you like it! 🙂