Wednesday, April 07, 2010

"The Darkly Luminous Fight for Persephone Parker," by Leanna Renee Hieber

The Chick: Persephone "Percy" Rychman, nee Parker. Firmly set in her love for Alexi Rychman and officially welcomed as the seventh member of the Guard, Percy is almost prepared to meet her destiny.
The Rub: Meeting her destiny means disobeying and possibly jeopardizing Alexi's affection for her, but the alternative means the end of the world!
Dream Casting: Romola Garai, 1 Bottle of Bleach and a Pound of Flour

The (Sort of) Dude: Alexi Rychman. He's overjoyed to be reunited at last with his legendary love, Percy Parker and is determined to protect her from danger at all costs.
The Rub: However, dread tidings suggest she'll have to walk into danger to save the world - without him. Ohnoez!
Dream Casting: Richard Armitage.

The Plot:

Alexi: I'm so happy you're not dead! Let's get married!

Percy: *giggle* Okay!

100 Pages Later

The Plot: Crap! I'm late!

Beatrice "Bitchy Ghost" Tipton: Don't mind me, I'm just here to open mysterious doors to the Whisperworld and pop up at random moments to complain at you.

The Darkness: *sniffle* I miss my wifey!

Bitchy Ghost: Epic battle incoming, y'all!

The Six Members of the Guard: Ohnoez! What will we do?

Percy: Quick! Chuck the relationship angst you've been hoarding for decades!

The Guard: ...

Percy: Dudes, if I have to grow a pair, you have to grow a pair!

The Guard: Oh, all right. *Relationship issues: resolved!*

The Darkness and His Army of Ghosts: It's on, bitches! BTW, when's the baby shower, Percy?

Percy: I'm pregnant?

The Darkness: *pokes* Not anymore!

Percy: *Goddess-ified* OH NO YOU DI'N'T! *defeats Darkness*

Member of the Guard Who Shall Remain Nameless for Spoilery Purposes: *dies*

The Rest of the Guard: Crap. Oh well. We won! Partaaay!

Partaaay: *is had by all*

Percy: HOORAY!

Romance Convention Checklist

1 Crazy-Pale Personification of Prophesy

1 Hot Prof

3 Cases of Unrequited Love

2 Cases of Eventually Requited Love

1 Resurrected Baddie

1 Bitchy Ghost

Several Magic Feathers

2 Ghost Possessions

The Word: Okay, when I read Leanna Renee Hieber's debut novel, The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker, I had some qualms against the novel but generally enjoyed it. The worldbuilding was intriguing and original, the secondary characters strong, and the action scenes were well done. The only problem I had was with Percy Parker herself - a character with the skin colouring and emotional constitution of a marshmellow peep. She was a passive, weak crybaby who swooned at the drop of a hat and while the other elements of the novel made it possible for me to enjoy Strangely Beautiful, I worried about the rest of the series.

Still, I preserved high hopes - mainly because Leanna Renee Hieber is awesome in person and on Twitter. Leanna Renee Hieber, as a friend, I should tell you now that this will not be the best review you receive for this book. Not the worst, either, but I fear I may be damning you with faint praise. There were a many good, even a few great, elements to this book but I fear my problems with it overcame those good elements and rendered it an altogether inferior book to your debut.

The first problem is the pacing. First, we get a nigh-incoherent prologue where ghost Beatrice Tipton, the former leader of the Guard (the holy Ghostbustin' outfit started by the goddess of prophesy), spies on our heroes during the climax of the previous novel. Then, Alexi and Percy finally get married. I'm not spoiling anything by saying that the novel's title is a misnomer - but I guess Persephone Rychman doesn't have the same alliterative appeal.

The plot is promptly shunted aside as Alexi and Percy rejoice in their marriage in what amounts to a one-hundred-page epilogue for Strangely Beautiful. Disappointingly vague, metaphorically-described backstories are revealed, in which direct and explicit comparisons between Percy and Jesus are made no fewer than three times - a development that gave me some disquiet but ultimately didn't affect my read. Thankfully vague, metaphorically-described sex is had. Percy giggles and gasps and entertains several Garth-esque "I'm not worthy" moments at her new luxury. Alexi provides good fanservice by alternating between declarations of love and facetious pervy comments. Yawn.

While Alexi and Percy are on their honeymoon, the far more interesting supporting members of the Guard get up to various shenanigans once they're no longer supervised by Broody McAlpha. Sometimes their mannerisms can wear a bit thin (shut up already, Elijah) but Rebecca, Michael, Elijah, Josephine and Jane are, I believe, the heart and soul behind my appreciation for Strangely Beautiful and Darkly Luminous. I love their roles within the group of the Guard, their secrets, their painful longings and crushes and angst. Rebecca (who was a bit of a beyotch in the previous novel) gets some nice development here, as do Elijah and Josephine.

Eventually the plot gets underway, but very slowly. The extremely unpleasant Beatrice Tipton starts creating mysterious doors all throughout Athens, the school the Guard teach at, and claims (in between her bitter diatribes and vague advice) that the Whisperworld and the real world need to be brought closer together in preparation for a coming battle of epic proportions. This goes against everything the Guard have been taught, which is to keep the Whisperworld (ruled by Darkness, the Hades to Percy's Persephone) far, far away from the land of the living. In particular, Beatrice hints that Percy may have to venture into the Whisperworld by herself in order to do some World-Savin', which violates Alexi's Overprotective Alpha Male Sensibilities something fierce.

With such an epic mythological background and a sound cast of secondary characters, it's a shame that the main characters are so relentlessly one-note and uninteresting

Is Percy Parker still a damp kleenex of fate? Yes. But, at least at the start of the novel, she's evolved from a trembling, weeping heroine to a trembling, giggling heroine. I suppose it's a change for the better, but in the end it still seems as if she's being infantalized. She acts and behaves much younger than she actually is, which enlarges the already-considerable age gap between her and Alexi to borderline-creepy proportions. True, Percy's no longer a student but the whole professor-pupil kink is still being seriously vibed here.

I admit, stories where the heroine's greatest attraction is her "innocence" (i.e. total ignorance and inability to protect herself) tend to spoil my particular brand of cheese, so maybe I'm just bound to dislike Percy from the start. Also - is she still ghostly white? Yes - and the narrative never fails to remind us at least twice per page. WE GET IT, she's freakin' pale. In fact, the overwhelming repetitiveness of this description proves to be its own detriment. As in the last book, the novel goes to such huge lengths to describe her colourlessness, her shiny white flesh, her moonbeam hair, her glow-worm complexion, in an attempt to force us to accept her appearance as strangely beautiful, that, at least to me, it only emphasized the freaky-deakiness of her looks, to the point where I had to repress a shudder every time we get a description of her glow-in-the-dark midriff.

That being said, she does develop. True, she still flinches every time Alexi says anything even remotely non-positive within earshot of her, but in this novel she does, intentionally and actively, participate in the plot. She does things. She even (gasp!) defies Alexi and tries to solve things on her own and it does emerge as an organic development of her character rather than a sudden goddess-ex-machina twist (which was essentially how she saved everyone at the end of Strangely Beautiful). She's still a little flimsy, but in this case my dislike is more from my personal taste and less because of Hieber's character development.

Alexi, on the other hand, doesn't budge an inch. Still glowering and sneering, he now throws in an occasional grin or impassioned tear for good measure but he spends the majority of the novel being irritable. He was broody and hot in the last book but he's a bit obsolete here, as the story seems to have moved on without him.

While I had these similar reservations when I read Strangely Beautiful, Darkly Luminous still doesn't match up to the first novel for other reasons. This time around, the novel's dialogue is odd and stilted, especially during the Guard's group-huddle-discussion scenes, where it sounds like everyone is reading lines from backcover blurbs and cue cards. And, as mentioned before, the pacing is very slow and drags in numerous places, only to result in a slog of an elaborately-worded climax. I lost interest about halfway through this book.

I'd like to end on a positive note: the secondary characters and the magical set-up and the epic vendetta are all really good. I liked the glimpses of the other Guards and the use of magic. Unfortunately the pacing, the characterization of the protagonists and the dialogue don't past muster.


  1. Nice review. You explained perfectly what you liked and disliked.

    Alexi and that cravat of his has me all tingly. ;)

  2. I totally see your issues with this book, and normally I think they'd be issues with me as well, like the repetive descriptions of Percy for example. I can't explain it, but I suppose I was able to overlook them this time. I thought this was a better book than the first, and I really enjoyed the first one. I also felt the worldbuilding, with the Whisper World and the addition of the old guards like Beatrice, were a good addition.

    Sorry you didn't like it more, but you did, as always, a great job of explaining your thoughts on the book. Great review.

  3. I loved this book more than the first. I found the many pages of Percy and Alexi totally romantic. And thought the overall story moved along quite well.

    But I understand your thoughts :)