The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker by Leanna Renee Heiber

I’ve been eying this book ever since I saw the title; it just WINS. And after seeing the cover (which I really like – simple and atmospheric) and learning that the story was a little steampunk, my little book-I-must-get radar was beeping like mad. If you look around, this book is getting a lot of buzz, so I wasn’t the only one. I asked for this book right away when Dorchester asked me if there was anything I was interested in reading. I mean, really. This review is for the ARC copy that Dorchester sent me.

The Premise: The heroine, Miss Percy Parker, is an albino who can talk to ghosts. Proficient in many languages, and aware that she’s very strange looking to others, timid Percy has just enrolled in Athens Academy in London. Meanwhile, her Headmistress Rebecca Thompson and mathematics teacher Professor Alexi Rychman belong to a group of six who have been battling supernatural creatures in the streets of Victorian London. They’ve long awaited for the seventh, a woman that Professor Rychman believes is destined to be his true love, but Prophecy urges them to be cautious. Could Miss Percy be the seventh?

My Thoughts: When I first started reading this book, I was struck by the Gothic atmosphere. The worldbuilding seemed interwoven with the way the book was written. There’s an old fashioned formality to the language and dialogue which goes with the tale of ghosts and demons in Victorian London. I could see things taking place in dark, somber colors like blues and blacks, with Percy as a pale exception. Against this backdrop, the supernatural aspects – the ghosts, the frightening Ripper, and the Guard battling creatures on the cobblestone streets, had a perfect home. The way Greek myth was also added to the story was cherry on top of a lovely pie.

The first people that we meet are the Guard. The six people, three men, three women, who were each chosen by otherworldly spirits to defend the world against Hell. Their first meeting is as young teens, when they are each summoned together. Besides Rebecca and Alexi who become faculty as Athens Academy, there’s Michael, Elijah,Josephine, and Jane. Each has their own set of skills, which Alexi as their leader.
Because this is primarily a romance, the focus was mostly on Percy and Professor Rychman. The characters of each of the Guard are quickly, but deftly sketched. While there is a lot of good natured camaraderie in the group, there are tensions such as unrequited love and differences in interpreting the Prophecy that add depth to the relationships.

Of the main two characters, Percy is the timid schoolgirl, a nineteen year old who haunts the halls of Athena Academy, unsure of herself because of people’s reactions to her looks. In contrast the dark, tall (and somewhat cranky) Professor Rychman is an imposing and confident figure. I loved Professor Rychman’s character, but then I’ve always been fond of slightly acerbic people. I’ve read that the author modeled him on Alan Rickman, and I could see the similarities. It was easy for me to see Percy’s attraction to her Professor, less easy for me to see what the Professor saw in Percy – she was so meek, and in comparison to the Professor, her feelings made her seem very young. In that regard, the romance felt off for me, but otherwise I did enjoy the way it slowly unfolded and the problems it hit along the way.

The language is often very dramatic, which seems to go along with the Gothic aspect. At times the grand gestures made me aware I was reading fiction – I often could imagine certain scenes as if they were being played out in a theater, but it matched the Gothic Romance feel of the book.

Overall: Very good. The story is unique: a mix of historical, steampunk, paranormal and gothic romance. It’s the originality that really had me and made it a keeper, with clever twists on Greek mythology and Jack the Ripper. The only quibbles I had were with things in keeping with the sense of gothic romance and drama throughout the book.

Buy: Amazon | B&N

Other reviews:

Lurv a la Mode (four and a half scoops out of five)
Smexy Books (rating was a 9 )
Fantasy Dreamers Ramblings (positive review)
Tempting Persephone (positive review)

Interviews:
The Book Butterfly – I liked this one – talks about research and inspiration that went into the book, including bits about ghosts and Victorian London. (with contest ending Sept 10th)
Literary Escapism (with a contest ending Aug 25th)
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