An original paranormal Gothic romance for readers who love their alphas melting into a puddle and their melodrama dial set for ‘high’.
Percy Parker was raised in a convent, where she was left abandoned as a baby. At the age of 18, she is sent to the Athens Academy, a quiet, secluded place of learning in the centre of London where both men and women have the opportunity to learn and make something of themselves. (Not bad for the 19th century.) It is a tumultuous time, for the Ripper has come to the streets of London, striking fear into the hearts of everyone.
Unbeknownst to Percy and the rest of London, the Ripper is a manifestation of chaos, and the only thing that prevents him and other spirits from tormenting the city are the six guardians: Alexi, Rebecca, Michael, Elijah, Josephine and Jane, who were selected in childhood by the goddess to protect the city. Each of them has a special gift, and aside from defending London they commune on a regular basis in a chapel in Athens Academy, while waiting for the prophesied Seventh to complete their group.
Alexi is a professor of Alchemy and Mathematics at the Academy, known for his brooding nature and strict focus on all things prophecy related. He is the strongest the leader of the group. Percy, unbeknownst to him, has powers of her own, and as the book unfolds, so does his awareness of her powers and of what she might be to the guardians.
World building and characters
Leanna Renee Hieber does a great job of describing London in that time. In every encounter with the supernatural I could feel the chill of the air against my skin, and the vivid richness of the city as it sprang up around me. It was well done. The spirits—and there are many—are well depicted, their stories sad and poignant.
I also liked the characterisation of the secondary characters and the roles they played. Rebecca, stern headmistress that she was, could easily have been one of my friends, the kind of person who, despite her apparent intellect and level-headedness, you still want to smack on the head and say, ‘Which part of “he’s just not that into you” did you not get?!?’ There’s a character that everyone can relate to, or see someone they know in. I would willingly read the next books because they were quite interesting.
Shame about the melodrama and lack of subtlety
While Hieber’s prose is lyrical and flowing, a lot of things are made obvious to the reader from the first. There are a lot of things that you know that the characters don’t, but are shown, and make you wonder about their supposed powers and ability to figure things out. After a while you just want to smack them and go, ‘ARE YOU BLIND?!?’
There’s also something very Gothic romance about this book—which I suppose was possibly the intention, which would also explain the very long title, and which would also explain the occasional melodrama. For example, when one of them gets dumped, she runs out into the rain and ends up fainting, bleeding outside the guy’s window. Now granted, there are also supernatural reasons for this, but I found the whole scene straight out of a torrid Gothic or a soap opera.
I am also not a fan of the teacher-student romance. It creeps me out. My Theology teacher (yes, Theology!) had to leave mid-semester because, despite there not being too large an age gap (I would presume it was 6 years max), he was accused of having an affair with one of my classmates. (And this was not the only case I’ve heard about over the years.) It possibly hits too close to home, and the fact that she is 17 years younger, or thereabouts, does not help the cause.
It also does not help that the lead character, Alexi, was supposed to be dark, brooding and Gothic, and this was well done right about the time he fell in love and became a melodramatic sap. Why does this happen? I hate it when this happens. There’s a difference between bringing an alpha to his knees and making him melt into a puddle. This was clearly a puddle.
Last but not least, the author ends each chapter with a conversation from the other side of the fence (i.e. evil beings chatting with each other). I felt that this could just have just been interspersed with the rest of the story. I think these bits were put in there as hints leading up to what the evil force exactly was and what the guardians would come against. Putting them all at the end of each chapter was almost like telling instead of showing, because making the omnipotent reader aware of what was happening only served to highlight how the characters could make better use of their intuition and observation and trust of one another—dear god, Rebecca, get over him so you can trust what he says—considering they were supposed to have all these powers.
Yay or nay?
In the end, despite my nitpicky annoyances I would still recommend this book. It is highly original, and this take on a Gothic romance, for all its melodrama, succeeds. Percy is a likeable heroine, and her development and interaction with the spirits as the story leads to the dramatic conclusion make the book worthwhile.
The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker is published by Dorchester. The second book in the series, The Darkly Luminous Fight for Persephone Parker, is due for release in April 2010.
Title: The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker (excerpt)
Series: Strangely Beautiful (Book 1)
Author: Leanna Renee Hieber
Release date: August 20, 2009
Publisher: Dorchester Publishing
Format: Mass market
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