Tuesday, August 25, 2009

"The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker," by Leanna Renee Hieber

Alternate Title: The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Alexi Rychman (featuring Percy Parker)

The Chick: Persephone "Percy" Parker. A young woman born with white hair, skin, and eyes, she grew up in a convent. Already considered strange by anyone who looks at her, she hides the fact that she has prophetic visions and sees ghosts.
The Rub: All she wants to do is learn. Why does her professor Rychman have to be so sexy? Fraternization is not allowed! Also ... someone might be trying to kill her.
Dream Casting: Romola Garai, slightly younger and paler.

The Dude: Alexi Rychman. At age fourteen, he and five others were chosen by a mysterious goddess to be Guards, and protect the human world against incursions from the spirit world. However, the goddess prophesied that a seventh member would come among them when the time was right.
The Rub: Unlike the others, he believes that he and the seventh member are destined to be lovers. Hence, he's kept himself cold and aloof and free of personal attachments until his goddess returns. So, why does he find the strange pale girl who daydreams in his class so freakin' hawt?
Dream Casting: Richard Armitage.

The Plot:
Goddess: Hey, kids, let's possess you with spirits and give you magic powers! Wait for the seventh member, okay?

Alexi and other Guard Members: Hooray!

Twenty Years Later...
Alexi: If only we could find the seventh member!

Percy Parker: Oh, woe is me, everyone thinks I'm so ugly and freakish because I'm white as snow and I see visions, can talk to ghosts and freak out over mystical paintings.

Alexi: You have visions and can talk to ghosts and freak out over mystical paintings?

Percy: Yes.

Alexi: Huh. What an odd coincidence. Can't be the prophesy, though! Nope! Just another case of an albino with psychic powers! A dime a dozen in London!

Assembled Ghosts: What a moron.

Percy: Oh woe is me, I'm secretly in love with my sexy, sexy math professor but surely he must think I am repulsive so I'm just going to sit here and cry until my problems go away!

Alexi: I find her drippy hopelessness oddly attractive! Crap, she is the seventh member!

The other members of the Guard: No she isn't.

Alexi: Yes she is!

The Guard: No she isn't - it's Miss Linden.

Miss Linden: Actually, I'm here to kill all of you!

The Guard: Whoops, our bad.

Percy Parker: *goddess powers* YOU. ARE. ALL. IDIOTS. *vanquishes evil*

The Other Members of the Guard: Well, now, no hard feelings right?

Percy and Alexi: *accusing glare*

The Other Members of the Guard: We were just leaving.

Percy and Alexi: Hooray!

Romance Convention Checklist

1 Heroine Chosen By But Completely Ignorant Of Destiny

1 Sexy Math Professor

4 Gullible, Easily Led Friends

1 Really Gullible, Easily Led and Spiteful Friend

Several Love Triangles

1 Inconvenient Prophesy

Several "Private Tutorials" (for tutoring, you pervs!)

1 Ocean of Tears

Several Friendly Ghosts

3 Figures from Greek Mythology

The Word: It's Victorian London, and six teenagers are woken from their beds and led to a mysterious chapel where they are possessed by six powerful spirits. A goddess appears to them and tells them they'll retain both their humanity and free will, but are "augmented" by the spirits to help perform the duties they were destined for: to become The Guard, protecting humanity from the less friendly denizens of the underworld. However, the goddess warns that a war is brewing on the horizon, and when the time is right, a seventh member will come to them. She vanishes after giving them a handful of clues.

Twenty years pass, and the Guard have evolved to become the Victorian equivalent of Ghostbusters: Alexi, the leader who is possessed by the power of the phoenix (the former lover of the goddess) can call fire with his hands; Rebecca, who possesses supernatural intuition and can track ghosts; Jane, a magical healer; Michael, a vicar who can manipulate emotions; Elijah, an aristocratic fop who can erase people's memories; and Josephine, a Frenchwoman who can control and calm people with her paintings. Together, they track down violent ghosts and subdue them.

Over two decades, they've developed into a close-knit group, although not without their share of love triangles. The only one who remains above all attachment is Alexi. Unbeknownst to the others, he fell in love with the goddess from twenty years ago, and harbours the personal conviction that he is destined to love the seventh member of their Guard as well.

Meanwhile, at Athens Academy, Rebecca (who's coincidentally the headmistress), admits a new student, Miss Percy Parker. Sent over from the convent where she was raised (after Mummie Plot Device dumped her there and promptly died), she wears a protective scarf, gloves, and blue-tinted glasses to hide the fact that she possesses no colour of her own: every part of her body (including her eyes,) is stark white. Although she's older than most of the students at eighteen, she yearns for an education and has no prospects of her own.

Percy hides more than her deformity: she can also see ghosts and visions. However, since she already looks like a living snow-sculpture she figures, why raise my Freak Meter even higher? and keeps her abilities to herself. While she excells in most of her classes (particularily languages), her greatest challenge comes from math class, party because a) she's immediately, uncontrollably attracted to her professor (Alexi) and b) because she actually sucks at math.

Percy actually sucks so hard at math that Alexi suggests they have private tutorials to raise her grades. In the privacy of his office, he grows impatient with Percy's fumblings and shyness and "woe is me" act and demands she remove her guards (scarf, gloves, glasses) and shut up already about how monstrous she thinks she is. Yay Alexi! As they spend more and more time together (math reeaaaaaally isn't Percy's strongest subject), Percy gains some confidence and a mutual attraction blossoms between both of them.

However, Alexi tries to fight it. A mysterious, demonic creature is mutilating women, and while the general public blames it on Jack the Ripper, the Guard realize it's a spirit-beast, and probably a sign that the Big Bad War is on the horizon and they'd better hurry up and find their seventh teammate before it's too late. Alexi believes his heart is reserved for Ghostbuster #7, so he's afraid of his burgeoning feelings for Percy and wants to wait to see if she adheres to the Prophesy's portents.

The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker is a fascinating read, both as a fantasy and as a romance - something that's incredibly difficult to accomplish, at least according to the paranormals I've read. I adored the fantasy aspect - while the set-up is a little rushed at the beginning, nothing was infodumped and I never felt I was being hit over the head with extraneous information. The Guard's individual powers were original and it was marvellously entertaining to read them in action (particularly Michael - whose main ability is to cheer people up during a battle. Seriously. And he's awesome at it).

As a romance, the set-up was equally intriguing. In hindsight, I realize this was a Soul Mate romance, but the conflict was so interesting and realistic that I didn't mind. Alexi believes that Ghostbuster #7 is the one for him - and while he turns out to be right, it doesn't mean he immediately recognizes Percy for who she is at the outset. He has definite expectations for who he believes his Goddess will be, so he's flabbergasted and not a little concerned when he starts falling for a woman who doesn't meet all his criteria. He holds his feelings in check and tries to wait until something Percy says or does matches up with the Prophesy, but eventually he has to go on faith.

I found that faith is the founding element in the thematic narrative of Miss Percy Parker. The Prophesy serves as a powerful metaphor for religion. At the beginning of the novel, the Guard are left with a goddess' message that seems to give clear-cut instructions regarding their destiny while still remaining ambiguous and vague in certain areas. Alexi initially believes he has to take the Prophesy word-for-word to truly figure it out, and is leery as to how far he's allowed to subject the Prophesy to personal interpretation. Eventually, the rest of the Guard fall for a false Ghostbuster #7 because they are too eager to take the Prophesy at face value instead of truly examining it, and themselves, to discern what it means. Both Alexi and the rest of the Guard have to learn just how important personal faith is to the Prophesy's true meaning.

As much as I enjoyed the thematic, romantic, and fantastic elements of this novel, there were a few flaws - mostly with the main character. She's actually the reason this novel doesn't get an A grade. For a titular character, Percy Parker sure is passive. Timid and mouselike, eternally apologizing and squeaking in terror, she spends the greater part of this book wringing her hands and crying, or else moping about how unattractive she is. I understand that she's had a rough life with her strange appearance and her visions. I appreciate that Alexi very quickly identifies Percy's problems and tells her to cut the self-pitying bullshit. I recognize that, thanks to Alexi, Percy develops a spine and that her burgeoning confidence is part of the romantic development.

However, it all happens too slowly for someone who is supposed to be the novel's protagonist, i.e. the One Who Makes The Plot Happen. She's the freakin' Chosen One, so there has to be a reason she was chosen in the first place. The Guard is supposed to be this bad-ass ghost-bustin' outfit, but it's never clear what Percy will bring to the table as Ghostbuster #7. Let me be clear - she does develop a spine. Eventually. There are some very nice scenes where Percy gives Alexi a set-down (in Arabic!) and when she meets her supposed "rival" Miss Linden and is all "bitch, please". However, she never develops enough to do anything on her own. She never acts, she only reacts. The novel tells us over and over how special Percy is and how integral she is to the world's very survival but I felt the novel never shows us what makes Percy so special.

I think the kicker comes after Alexi succumbs to the Guard's insistance that Miss Linden is Ghostbuster #7 and he dumps Percy, for fear that he'll betray the Prophesy. Heartbroken by Alexi's betrayal, when she spots Miss Linden and discovers that Miss Linden is not only a skanky ho, but an evil skanky ho, instead of actually warning Alexi and the Guard and fighting for the man she loves (like she said she would in one of her infrequent moments of awesomeness), she (ironically) pulls a trademark 19th-century-literary-heroine move. She becomes so overcome with melodramatic despair she renders herself physically ill, leaving her weeping in a self-imposed fever/coma until a glowing Plot Device drags her to the climax to finally participate in the story.

Along the way there were other problems and inconsistencies. For instance, Alexi is strangely nonchalant when he discovers Percy can not only see ghosts, but talk to them - something no one else is able to do. I expected him to be a little interested in that. Instead, he gives the same "Oh? That's nice" reaction my grandparents gave when I told them I wanted to write romance novels. As well, the character of Rebecca stood out like a sore thumb - even though she's supposed to have magical powers of intuition, she's the first to fall for skanky ho Miss Linden. The novel hints that her unrequited love and jealousy regarding Alexi motivated her choice - but really. Miss Linden turns out to be All Kinds of Evil and More - are we really supposed to believe that none of Rebecca's Magically-Installed Red Flags went up?

Uh, aside from that, however, the novel was excellent. The characterization of the Guard members was subtly yet powerfully done - even in a simple group of six there are undercurrents of passion, betrayal, and unrequited love. The mythical set-up of the plot came as an excellent surprise that actually made sense, and while the plotline and the romance are satisfactorily resolved by book's end, Leanna Renee Hieber still left plenty of material for future books. Yes, Miss Percy Parker is a bit of a Debbie Downer, but I still recommend this book for its lovely blend of original fantasy and sweet romance (which Percy actually does participate in, thank you very much), and I also recommend the series itself, since it's shaping up to be pretty awesomely epic.


  1. Really need to get this book. Even though she's sounds quite pathetic.

  2. Percy is so adorable. I love when she swoons over her sexy math teacher. Now if this was an erotically beautiful tale, we all know what would be going on during those tutoring sessions.

  3. Your reviews are so entertaining! I especially like the summary categories (chick, dude, plot, etc.).

    I'm really looking forward to this book. I'm a fairly passive person myself, so reactive heroines don't bother me generally. :)

  4. No one can say this isn't my most entertaining and unique review. *grin* Thanks my dear for your time and your words! And blessings!