An amazing series is back from the dead—and full of new, vibrant life! You may have noticed by now that I love Leanna Renee Hieber’s gaslamp fantasy novels. I have previously read and reviewed Darker Still and The Eterna Files, the first books in her Magic Most Foul series and Eterna Files series, respectively. My obvious next move was to go back and read her first published series, the Strangely Beautiful saga. The only problem: it’s been out of print since the publisher went out of business several years ago. But we have good news! Leanna is re-releasing the series with her new publisher, Tor! Strangely Beautiful—the updated “author’s preferred edition” of the first two books of the series—comes out April 26th.
Preorder the book now, or pick one up from your local bookstore in just over a week. If you’re in the New York City area, you can also come hang out with me and Leanna for a Strangely Beautiful event at the historic and haunted Morris-Jumel Mansion on Saturday, April 30! Grab a book, get it signed by the lovely Leanna, and stick around for refreshments, storytelling, and sartorial extravaganza. And if that’s not enough Leanna for you, check back with The Gothic Library next week—I’ll be hosting a guest post by the author herself on the varieties of feminine strength as it relates to the protagonist of her Strangely Beautiful series.
But now, on to the review!
The new edition of Strangely Beautiful contains updated and edited versions of her first two novels, plus some bonus material at the end. The first part, “The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker,” introduces us to the protagonist of the story and the fascinating world she inhabits. Set in Victorian London, the story begins with a prologue in which five strangers discover that they have become hosts to the spirits of a supernatural group called the Guard, whose presence gives them powers over the dead and the responsibility of maintaining order amongst the paranormal elements of British society. Two decades later, young Percy Parker arrives at Athens Academy, a boarding school that doubles as headquarters for the Guard. Percy is an orphan, raised in a convent, whose natural timidity is exacerbated by the self-consciousness resulting from others’ reactions to her unusually pale skin, hair, and eyes—not to mention her ability to see visions and commune with ghosts. But as she spends more time at Athens Academy, Percy’s feelings for her professor and Guard leader, Alexi Rychman, propel her to act in bold ways she never would have imagined being capable of. And even as her romantic feelings develop, something else is growing inside Percy—something powerful, supernatural, and intimately related to the mysterious work of the Guard. But will the Guard recognize her as one of their own or fall into the trap set for them by their adversaries?
“The Darkly Luminous Fight for Persephone Parker” picks up on a joyful note after the intense climax of the first part. But as the title suggests, things quickly turn dark. Ominous visions and messages from spirits warn Percy that her destiny will involve returning to the otherworldly home of her namesake goddess. Percy will have to confront Darkness himself before he has the opportunity to unleash the dangerous spirits of the Whisper-world into the human realm.The school becomes a battle ground as the forces of good and evil collide in an epic fight. Percy and her friends must pool their strength as they confront both love and loss.
What to even say about this book? Strangely Beautiful has officially surpassed Darker Still as my favorite of Leanna’s works, which is no small feat. It might have something to do with the fact that the love interest Alexi Rychman is quite obviously modeled on Alan Rickman, and I kept falling into bouts of giggling every time Alexi and Percy stared into each other’s’ eyes and said with the utmost seriousness, “Always.” Like the famous professor played by his namesake, Alexi is all swishing cloaks, long dark hair, and brooding eyebrows. And who doesn’t love a man whose daily color scheme is black with blood-red accents?
But what really drew me into the story is the character of Percy. You’ll be hearing about her more next week from Leanna, so I won’t say too much. I will say that Percy follows in the tradition of archetypal Gothic heroines—she is young and inexperienced yet shows a burgeoning curiosity and unparalleled moral integrity and kindness. However, she is far from being a damsel in distress. She certainly has her moments of distress and spends a good part of the novel in the arms of her older and more physically, financially, and socially powerful love interest—and yet I would not consider her passive, weak, or helpless in any way. Much of her strength comes from her compassion, and she never hesitates to act for the sake of others. I think she also shows great strength in her ability to remain happy, hopeful, loving, and forgiving even in her moments of greatest adversity. Plus, she’s got some pretty badass supernatural powers.
I definitely recommend that you check this book out, especially the new author-preferred edition! And if you’re interested in hearing more, don’t forget to check back next week for Leanna Renee Hieber’s take on what it really means to be a strong female character.