(Magic Most Foul #1)
Leanna Renee Hieber
Paranormal Young Adult
Received from publisher for review
It's not easy being a young woman in New York City in 1882. For Natalie Stewart, life is a bit more difficult for her than other young ladies her age given she's mute. She has an adoring father, but her marriage prospects are relatively nonexistent given her condition and she finds friends are rather few and far between.
Her life gets infinitely more interesting, however, when she comes to hear of a supposedly haunted painting. Rumor has women of all ages fainting at the sight of a truly stunning young man known as Lord Denbury in all his painted glory, his uncannily realistic portrait causing a stir wherever it's displayed.
The reason Lord Denbury seems so very alive in painted form is because his soul is trapped in the painting, a prisoner of dark magic who is unable to reach anyone in the world outside his gilded frame. Except for Natalie. She alone can communicate with him, and she takes it upon herself to figure out just what happened to Jonathon and how his curse can be reversed, but in doing so, she makes herself a target for the demonic being responsible for trapping him in the first place.
Magic, mystery, and murder combine in this first book of Ms. Hieber’s new young adult series, catapulting us quickly into a world of what-ifs, hows, and whys while teasing us with just a touch of romance to ensure our hearts are as equally involved in the story as our minds. Written in journal entry format, we often find ourselves with Natalie after events have occurred, riveted to the page and dying to know what’s happened from the moment she put down her pen to the time she's picked it up again, left completely on edge and anxious to be kept in the loop. The case of the eerily realistic painting of Lord Denbury unravels slowly but captivatingly, little clues popping up now and again to provide some hints at answers before a whole slew of new questions descend upon us, tying us to the outcome of Denbury’s fate as surely as if we knew him personally.
Natalie is a strong and memorable heroine, her status as a mute instantly creating a sympathetic friend in us (though she neither wants nor needs any such sentiment from anyone) as she is forced to continually remind those around her that an inability to speak does not amount to an inability to hear or a reduced IQ. She’s extremely intelligent and possesses a sense of humor we as readers alone get to experience given we are privy to her words, making her easily someone we want to read more about. Her relationship with Jonathon is tortuously slow, the unknown ramifications of their actions within the painting keeping them to an excruciating yet delicious pace of courtship. Despite their attraction to one another, both keep their wits about them, never slipping into the “I can’t function without you” phase but rather relishing their time together while also utilizing their time apart to do what needs to be done.
The only mild complaint with this story is with the shortage of information we have about the who and why of Jonathon’s painting predicament, knowing very little of him in general and even less about the dark magic responsible for his circumstances. This is the first in the series however, so inevitably more details will be forthcoming in the next books. We are given a nice conclusion to this first enigmatic tale, one door shut while several others are left wide open, beckoning us to walk through and see what secrets they shield from view. We close the last page wanting to take those few steps toward the waiting doorways and more answers, but we are not frustratingly desperate to do so, content instead with what we’ve been given thus far and with what we still have yet to learn.