There are primarily two reasons I picked up this book — one, it’s inspired by Oscar Wilde’s The Portrait of Dorian Gray, which I adore, and two, look at that cover! Is that not one of the most beautiful book covers ever? I’m such a sucker for pretty covers …
The story is set in the late 1800′s in New York City. Natalie Stewart is a mute girl, though her lack of voice is strictly a psychological thing: she stopped speaking when her mother died. Anyway, a painting from England has come to grace American shores, and there’s quite a stir about it since it is rumored to be haunted. The painting is a life sized portrait of a dashing young man, Lord Denbury, who died some years ago through tragic circumstances. Natalie becomes enchanted by the painting, and senses there’s something frighteningly realistic about it. Her suspicions come true when she is pulled into the painting and realizes that Lord Denbury is alive and well, but cursed and trapped in his own portrait.
I’m going to get my biggest complaint about the book out of the way first, and that is the fact that it’s written in diary format but does not read like a diary at all. People don’t usually write diaries like narrative stories, especially not personal diaries. The inclusion of overly descriptive scenes, exact dialogue with the he-said, she-said, etc. definitely leans away from diary-writing and more to novel-writing. When people write diaries, I don’t think many of them write out their experiences in novel format, if any. Essentially what Darker Still has done is insert dates every so often to make it seem like a diary, when really it is not.
Other than that though, I did enjoy the book very much. I’m no expert on Victorian literature, so in my inexpert opinion, the story did a fairly good job replicating the style of speech and whatnot, although there were a few points in the writing where I thought the author was trying a little too hard. The story is basically a bit of a mystery novel, with Natalie attempting to figure out how Lord Denbury got into the painting, who did it, and how to get him out; overall, it was a fun, quick read.
I particularly liked Natalie. She’s mute, but rather than being a withdrawn and passive girl, she takes initiative a lot and is eager to communicate with others in any way possible. I could even forgive the fact that she is obsessed with Denbury’s charming good looks — a lot of YA novels tend to have their female leads obsess over the male lead’s muscles and abs, which, incidentally, all male leads possess — because her obsession with his looks actually kind of make sense in this book. The painting of Denbury is supposed to be mesmerising and scarily realistic, so Natalie being unable to take her eyes off of Denbury’s portrait makes sense. When she enters the painting and realizes he’s a real gentleman as well, it kind of seals the deal. No ridiculously lengthy descriptions of muscled chests here, thanks.
Denbury, on the other hand, was quite one-dimensional and personally, I don’t see what the big appeal is about him. At one point, he does something kind of weird. The two of them are on a serious mission to scope out some information and suddenlt, Denbury (Potential spoilers alert!) ……………………….. “attacks” Natalie to the ground, kissing her everywhere, trying to unbutton her blouse, and all that. The book literally says he pounced on her! At first I thought he was just possessed (which is quite possible due to the nature of this story), but then Denbury apologizes by basically saying he’s really horny (I’m paraphrasing, of course). Natalie, being a noble Victorian lady, declines his advances, though, bizarrely, Natalie is so starstruck by Denbury that she brushes it all off as nothing! (Spoilers over!) The whole scene just stuck out oddly to me, and seemed like an awkward attempt at creating a modern sexy scene or something, I don’t know. It was weird.
I personally liked the book because I am a fan of Victorian literature and also a fan of Dorian Gray. If you generally dislike reading “old fashioned” books, you might want to skip this one over, I suppose, since it does try to mimic the style of Victorian novels. I think this book was well written as a whole and the story flows smoothly. The characters are a bit hit and miss — I liked Natalie, but Denbury was a bit blah. I’d recommend giving this book a go if you are interested!