Title: The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker.
Author:Leanna Renee Hieber
Genre: Gothic Romance/ Paranormal Romance
Publisher: Leisure Books
Publishing Date: 25 August 2009
Paperback 324 pages
Stand Alone or series: First in the Strangely Beautiful series
Summary: What fortune awaited sweet, timid Percy Parker at Athens Academy? Hidden in the dark heart of Victorian London, the Romanesque school was dreadfully imposing, a veritable fortress, and little could Percy guess what lay inside. She had never met its powerful and mysterious Professor Alexi Rychman, knew nothing of the growing shadows, of the Ripper and other supernatural terrors against which his coterie stood guard. She saw simply that she was different, haunted, with her snow white hair, pearlescent skin and uncanny gift. This arched stone doorway was a portal to a new life, to an education far from what could be had at a convent—and it was an invitation to an intimate yet dangerous dance at the threshold of life and death….
Why did I read the book: The buzz around this release , the cover, the adorable title and the blurb, all made me want to read it.
London, England, 1867.
The Guard are searching. Six children are gathered and taken to a school, The Athens Academy and to a secret room where they are welcomed by a Goddess and are told that they are now the hosts for The Guard and they have a mission. Their Circle has started in ancient times and The Grand Work needs to be done. Each children carries a new power and together they must keep the Ghosts away from the people of London. They must fight Darkness. Alexi, the oldest of the children is to be their leader and his role is intrinsically connected with the Goddess who predicts that she will return as their Seventh, as the Prophecy at their greatest time of need: when the forces of Darkness are about to take over. When she returns there will be war. Her sign will be a door but beware for there will be another pretending to be the real Prophecy. Alexi alone will be the one to know who she is, for there is Love between them – since the beginning of time.
20 years later.
The Guard is still doing their job whilst trying to lead normal lives. Together they stand against ghostly disturbances, keeping at bay evil forces. Right now, the Ripper is attacking, taking lives and they are losing the battle. Where is Prophecy? They need their Seventh because their fight has taken its toll. The Guard is tired, tried, especially Alexi whose loneliness is overwhelming. He waits for his love and he knows she must come and soon.
Enter Miss Percy Parker. An 18 year old girl, who recently left the convent where she grew up at, to join the Athens Academy as a student. Percy is different: she is albino and her appearance keeps people away. She can speak several languages and she can see and talk to ghosts. All through her lonely life, sweet, gentle, virtuous Percy has been plagued with visions and the fear that she will be thought mad if she ever talked to someone about them.
Then, she meets Professor Alexi and is completely smitten and falls in love. Alexi, on the other hand starts to take an interest on the girl and offers to tutor her in mathematics. During their sessions, Alexi begins to suspect that Percy may well be the Seventh as Percy’s visions come more regularly. The girl has no idea what is going on and is increasingly terrified and only her adored Professor stands between her and them maddening suspicion that she may be someone with a Destiny.
The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker has been described in reviews as Fantasy or Paranormal Romance but in the opinion of this reader, the book is a Gothic Novel if ever I seen one; complete with all the extreme, dramatic emotion and the alluring atmosphere. On the latter, the author is highly successful in capturing the feel of the genre: the wonderful descriptions of a London plagued with ghosts and fog; the eventful meetings between the members of the Guard and their powers; the Ancestral Prophecy that drives their lives to the events that spiral out of everybody’s control. On the Fantasy side, the book is highly entertaining, and I was especially excited about the interesting twist to the Ripper’s tale and by how the author incorporated (and made her own) the Greek Myth of Persephone and Hades.
Having said that, the Romance between Alexi and Percy did not work as well for me. Mind you, from a Gothic Novel perspective the romance is extremely well done and fits the genre superbly. The DRAMA of their relationship fills the page with such force: it is a forbidden romance to start with because they are professor and student. Alexi is dark, brooding, aloof and tormented and the possibility that his Prophecy is so young and timid only adds to the angst. The visions that Percy has completely terrorise her and this fear is tremendously distressing.
It is this exaggeration of emotions, that even though suited to the genre, appear to not suit me as a reader, especially when it comes to Percy. She is extremely meek, gentle, timid and because of her difficult life, lacked confidence. To begin with, it is impossible NOT to sympathise with the heroine: Her loneliness is poignant and ever so sad. I can only but imagine how life for an albino miss who sees ghosts cannot be easy in Victorian times, if ever. But there was a point where her timidity and lack of self-esteem became too repetitive. Plus, Percy is a crier. She cried for everything: when happy, when sad, when scared, when lonely, when grateful, when angry. And the more she cried, the more I became impervious to those tears. I do appreciate that within the context of the story it is realistic that her character did not go from timid to powerful in one go but still. There is one scene in particular when Percy thinks that Alexi has left her for good and she is overcome with so much sadness and grief that she runs into the rain and wails and cries and sobs and then collapses. Alexi, watching from afar utters the words:
“Persephone, you godforsaken romantic”
The scene is wonderfully evocative of Gothic romance and this scene actually reminded me of the Drama of Wuthering Heights – like that scene when Cathy realises Heathcliff is gone and screams his name to the windy outdoors. It is highly emotional indeed but I find myself disliking it – and I realise how important strong heroines have become to me.
But there are a couple of scenes where Percy showed potential, a lot of it actually.
“Have I rattled you so very much?” he pressed, his voice like faraway thunder.
She paused. Then, in a moment of fleeting bravery she removed her glasses and stared into his eyes. “Always.”
The professor almost smiled.
“Finally, you are honest with me.”
She was quick to reply. “I’ve never been dishonest.”
“Be of good cheer, faint heart, you are too easily hurt,” he chided.
“My heart is fortified with passions, Professor; it is my confidence that is too easily undone.”
And that is the heart of who Percy is – a girl fortified by passions (her love for Alexi is her driving force towards the climax of the story) and undone by her self-image.
The good news is that, this is the first in series and the next book follows Percy and her role in the life of The Guard. It is my strongest hope that Percy as time passes, grows more confident. Because I have no doubt that I shall read the next one because even though the romance aspects of the novel did not totally win me over, The Guard’s adventures did and I can say days after reading it, for all of its drama and overwrought emotions, the Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker remains with me.
Notable Quotes/ Parts: I loved all the scenes with The Guard: Josephine, “the Artist,” Jane, “the Healer;” Rebecca, “the Intuition.” Michael “the Heart,” Elijah, “the Memory.” and Alexi: “the Power.” The dynamics when together worked really well and added some needed lightness to the story:
“The Guard broke into conversation as they ascended to the nave of the chapel. Michael remembered a pun he’d heard in the pub earlier that day, and he was quite desperate to tell it to Elijah who would surely denounce it as the stupidest thing he had ever heard. Jane, still a bit weak, discussed with Josephine through a minor coughing fit the romanticism of becoming a consumptive invalid and wondered if the scars on her cheeks gave her character. “
Additional thoughts: Leanna Renee Hieber is our guest today talking about her Inspiration for writing the Gothic tale and you have a chance to win a copy of the book. Check it out here.
Verdict: a gothic tale of prophecies and love with a wonderful atmospheric and VERY dramatic emotions.
Rating: I am actually torn about how to rate the book. For the fantasy aspect and atmosphere I would give it a 7. The romance did not work very well for me though so I would give it a 6 which I think is the grade I should go for.
6 – Good.
Reading Next: The Corinthian by Georgette Heyer.