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Saturday, August 29, 2009:
The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker by Leanna Renee Hieber (2009) - review

What fortune awaited sweet, timid Percy Parker at Athens Academy? Considering how few of Queen Victoria’s Londoners knew of it, the great Romanesque fortress was dreadfully imposing, and little could Percy guess what lay inside. She had never met the powerful and mysterious Professor Alexi Rychman, knew nothing of the growing shadow, the Ripper and other supernatural terrors against which his coterie stood guard. She knew simply that she was different, haunted, with her snow-white hair, pearlescent skin and uncanny gifts. But this arched stone doorway offered a portal to a new life, an education far from the convent—and an invitation to an intimate yet dangerous dance at the threshold of life and death….

I had first met Leanna Renee Hieber last year at the 2008 Lori Foster/Dianne Castell get-together. She's a very friendly and interesting person, and very good at remembering people. It was quite lovely to hear she was writing and about to have a book published in 2009, and she was kind enough to send me a copy of it.

TSBTOMPP is very different than most of the books I've read in recent memory. There is rather a dream-like quality about it, blended with several other intriguing elements: the delicious chill of a ghost story, the horrific murders of the Ripper, the fascinating aspects of Greek mythology. There's love and pain, friendship and betrayal.

Miss Percy Parker is remarkable in the sense that she is looked upon as a physical oddity, and in her mind that means she is quite beastly. She also has the ability to communicate with ghosts. These facts, along with a few others, ostracize her from her peers. Miss Parker is a lonely young woman who longs for companionship, and soon begins to find it at the Athens Academy.

She's extremely intimidated by Professor Alexi Rychman, who teaches mathematics. See, Percy is proficient in every language except, it seems, that of numbers. It's just that the professor affects her so, and she cannot seem to concentrate on anything but his richly, beautiful voice. It gets to the point where Professor Rychman offers to tutor her or she runs the risk of complete failure in his class. Nervously, she accepts.

Professor Rychman has been waiting for his goddess for years, and everything else in his life is just to pass the time. As part of an elite yet secretive group called the Guard, he serves the good of his cause, forsaking his heart's desire for that of duty. He's impatient with his student, who cannot seem to grasp the basic concept of mathematics, yet also finds her arresting in her appearance. After a time Alexi begins to look forward to the tutorials, and hopes to break through Miss Parker's timidity to find something strong and resilient within her.

Meanwhile the others in the Guard are distracted by someone who seems to be the long-awaited seventh in their group, and cannot fathom Alexi's preoccupation with a mere student. Fiendish trouble is coming, and they must all be on their guard to defeat the evil that threatens all of London....

My thoughts:

The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker is indeed both strange and beautiful. Reading the lyrical prose is incredibly hypnotic, and wrapped around me like a warm, cozy blanket. I felt drawn into Miss Parker's stark and lonely world right away, and fell right into the pages. I was equally as captivated by the lives of all the other characters as well.

That doesn't mean I was completely in love with the book though. The main thing that bothered me - and I'm sure other readers - was how meek and timid Percy was. Just about every comment she made had some reference to her looks, or her loneliness, or how tragic her life has been. Yes, Percy has the "poor me" syndrome, and frankly, it rather got on my nerves. And to pair her with an older, more sophisicated man was remniscent of the old Harlequin Presents from the '70's and '80's, which didn't seem so suitable or particularly interesting, especially not in the beginning.

Still, there were many things I did find delightful, and both Alexi and Percy grew on me as I got to know them and watch them with each other. Also, I certainly did want to find out more about the Guard's history and what happened in all that time, from when they first met, through those years in between. We catch glimpses, but not nearly enough to satisfy my curiosity about Michael, Rebecca, Elijah, Josephine, and Jane, and what their lives have been like.
The rather gothic feel of the story made me second-guess every character, and wonder just what role they played in the destiny of the Guard. And I've always been fascinated with mythology, so the numerous references were a fun addition to the storyline, not to mention the involvement of the Ripper. So I'm especially pleased to hear that there will indeed be more strangely beautiful tales coming in May 2010....

Rating: ***1/2 out of *****

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  1. Maybe now that Percy has found Alex, she will grow in confidence and not be as shy in the next book.

    Wasn't Elijah cute...with his little wax heart? :)

  2. I felt exactly the same way, Stacy. I had trouble buying Percy as a heroine because so passive. At the end of the book, she actually has a chance to participate in her own story but she completely renounces all responsibility in a ham-handed way, forcing a plot device to drag her back.

    I really did like the book though (and Percy's a good romantic protagonist).

  3. I haven't read the book (yet-I'm definitely going to), but a lot of Gothic stories have that combination of young, lonely, and unconfident (is that a word?) woman with older, sophisticated and worldly man. Jane Eyre, Nine Coaches Waiting, and Rebecca spring to mind right away for me. So maybe that's why the character of Percy was created that way.

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