Of all of the prevalent tropes in young adult literature right now, instant love is by far the most frustrating. Making characters fall madly in love with one another as perfect strangers is carelessly thrust in as a way to avoid true character development. Usually it makes no sense. It’s more than just curiousity and attraction and within a single meeting or a single day a character has fallen in love.
Leanna Renee Hieber’s “Darker Still” starts and ends with insta-love. But, for once, it makes sense.
“Darker Still” is the journal of Natalie Stewart, a girl- scared-mute by the death of her mother at a young age. Perfectly capable outside of that, she outgrows the school that she has been placed in and convinces her father to let her work where he works — at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Here she befriends a young girl and her aunt — but most importantly she finds the portrait of one Lord Densbury. The portrait is enchanting, haunting and beautiful. Natalie finds herself completely enamored.
And when she falls into the world of the portrait and meets the real Lord Densbury, she finds herself falling in love very quickly. His soul has been trapped by a demon and only she can set him free. Natalie knows that it’s irrational but, as with every classic story, the heroine must throw herself into danger.
Natalie sets off to free the troubled young lord from his prison of paint.
The book manages to capture a clever voice in Natalie, a girl who embodies the characteristics of classic heroines while admitting the silly things that happen within the context of her life. She makes fun of her own instant-love story, admitting that it’s silly. Her strength of will and her own intelligence make the book by itself.
The side characters, from her father to her sometimes vapid friend, are all fleshed out. Hieber does a good job not letting them become stock characters and giving each a moment to define themselves on their own.
Densbury may be the only unmemorable character and, considering he spends most of the book either trapped in a painting or flirting with Natalie, his lack of development can be forgiven. The sequel should more than make up for it.
Overall, “Darker Still” is a fabulous Victorian-era romp with strong characters and an interesting plot and worth the read, particularly if you like or are interested in classic novels.