Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Twisted Tragedy of Miss Natalie Stewart: A Novel of Magic Most Foul Book Review

Author: Leanna Renee Hieber. Release date: 2012. Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire. ISBN: 9781402262036.

Annotation: After freeing him from his prison inside a painting at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Natalie and Lord Denbury are on the run, seeking refuge with one of Denbury’s longtime friends in Saint Paul. They soon discover, however, that their troubles are far from over, and the Society that cursed Lord Denbury is now working on a much larger, and more sinister, plan.

Personal thoughts: Darker Still was one of my favorite young adult books that I’ve read within the past few years. I was really excited for the sequel, so much so that I held off on reading it for awhile so that I could really enjoy it when I finally got to crack it open. Unfortunately, I was exceptionally unimpressed with The Twisted Tragedy of Miss Natalie Stewart. I’m not sure what happened, it just took a complete turn into dullsville for me. Where Darker Still was original and charming, the sequel was very blah. I am really sad about how much I didn’t enjoy it because I still really love the first novel. Hopefully the author can turn it around for the third installment, but I do have to say, it’s unlikely I will bother completing the series.

Plot summary: Lord Denbury is free from his prison inside a cursed painting and the demon who was inhabiting his body has been vanquished. Now he and Natalie are on the run, seeking refuge with one of Denbury’s longtime friends in St. Paul. Not sure where the answer to their troubles lies, they are shocked upon arriving in St. Paul to learn that the Society that cursed Lord Denbury in the first place now has much larger and more sinister plans in store. It seems that the Society has capture Rachel Horowitz, a friend of Natalie’s from New York, who cannot hear or speak but has the ability to communicate with spirits. Through visions and premonitions, Natalie is able to see Rachel being held captive, forced to draw spirits out of objects, mementos, even body parts. What is the Society planning and how does it relate to the demon that once cursed Lord Denbury?

Review: Author Leanna Renee Hieber continues her love-affair with Victorian literature in this sequel to her 2011 novel, Darker Still. Unfortunately, where her first novel shone in its marriage of mystery, romance and suspense, the sequel falls markedly short. There are several reasons why The Twisted Tragedy of Miss Natalie Stewart is not a successful follow-up to its predecessor. The first is that Darker Still had a very intriguing and well-written plot: Lord Denbury’s imprisonment in the painting, Natalie’s inability to communicate due to being mute, a murder mystery on the streets of Victorian New York. The plot of the sequel, however, is muddled, convoluted and not very entertaining. The “big reveal” at the end of the novel is very anti-climactic, and the build-up to that point is lackluster. Characters are introduced then never really expanded upon, and the romance between Natalie and Lord Denbury doesn’t really go anywhere. The charm of the setting in Darker Still is also absent, with little attention given to the Victorian surroundings and sensibilities that the author obviously cares for. There is an attempt at a cliffhanger that does little to motivate the reader to want to pick up the third novel which is set to be released in November of 2013. Overall, a disappointing follow-up to a story that had loads of potential.  

Genre:  Historical Fiction/Mystery

Reading level: Grade 7+

Similar titles: Darker Still by Leanna Renee Hieber, Entwined by Heather Dixon, Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel, Wrapped by Jennifer Bradbury, Haunting Violet by Alyxandra Harvey.   

Themes:  Curses, demons, secret societies, ghosts, psychic abilities, Victorian era, New York City.

Awards/Reviews:  Positive review from Booklist.   

Series Information: Second installment in Magic Most Foul series. First installment, Darker Still, released in 2011. Third installment, The Double Life of Incorporate Things, set to be released November 2013.    

Discussion questions:

-         How would you explain what the Society was trying to do with Rachel and her abilities?

-          Do you trust Mrs. Northe? Why or why not?

-         Do you think Natalie still struggles with her speech?

-         What was the significance of the runes in the story?

-          Who was your favorite character? Why?

-         Do you enjoy this novel more or less than Darker Still? Why?

-         What would you like to see happen in the third novel?

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