Author: Leanna Renee Hieber
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Publication Date: November 8, 2011
Series: Magic Most Foul #1
Links: Amazon | Goodreads
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.
Natalie is an endearing heroine. She's mute, and so her story is presented to the reader as an epistolary novel, largely in the form of her journal, but also including the occasional letter, article, or police report. I like this approach, because it makes the story more personal and intimate. I also adore that this method is used to allow a mute girl to tell her story. Natalie's condition doesn't dampen her spirits. If anything, it fuels them. She causes mischief at school. She's driven to be useful. She resents being a mute girl in a patriarchal society. She confronts conflict unapologetically.
I like the other characters as well. I particularly enjoy Mrs. Northe. She is an incredibly useful and clever ally for Natalie, and her insight is keen. Denbury is handsome and has a good heart. I definitely don't dislike him any, but I would've liked to have seen more development for him. I think he deserves a bit more character development, I should say (though I imagine that he will have more opportunity for growth in the future, since this is the first in a series). He and Natalie are connected in magic, and they have an old-fashioned attraction to each other, but I would have liked to have seen more connection on an emotional and intellectual level rather than one based mostly upon conflict. Their attraction is still believable though, due in part to the historical setting. The villain is decidedly evil and runs around doing some horrible things. He's got the vileness going on, which I approve of in a proper villain.
The pacing is quick, due perhaps to the journalistic style allowing for the imparting of the plot-driving details in a rapid succession. Some of Natalie's journal entries are written with haste, which adds to a sense of foreboding and urgency while reading it, which I like. The dark magic and use of the painting as a prison are elements that are wholeheartedly enjoyable. While I did find the conflict resolution to be predictable, it is still handled well and with just the right amount of dramatic flair. And there's some hinting at bigger things afoot!
I have to say that I enjoyed Darker Still more than I was expecting to, and that I'm looking forward to the next book in the Magic Most Foul series. I'd recommend it to fans of historical fantasies, epistolary novels, books containing spiritualism and black magic, evil villains, and unique heroines.