The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker by Leanna Renee Hieber
Editor’s note. Since Kelly first reviewed these books in 2009, they have been picked up by Tor and combined into one volume called Strangely Beautiful (shown here).
As The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker opens, six London youngsters are chosen for a special destiny. Plucked from their ordinary lives, they are brought together by a mysterious goddess. Their mission: to protect humanity from the forces of evil. The goddess promises the six that, in time, they will be joined by a seventh.
Nineteen years later, timid orphan Percy Parker arrives at the Athens Academy, where two of the six “chosen ones” have made their careers. Percy is brilliant with languages, abysmal at mathematics, haunted by strange dreams, and gifted with the ability to see ghosts. She settles uneasily into life at Athens Academy, and soon finds herself infatuated with Alexi Rychman, her mathematics instructor.
Much of The Strangely Beautiful Tale revolves around the developing relationship between Percy and Alexi; this is definitely “romantic fantasy.” They begin an unlikely friendship, with an undercurrent of forbidden attraction (though Percy is an adult, Alexi is her teacher). As he gets to know Percy, Alexi comes to believe that the shy young woman may be the fated seventh member of the group.
Meanwhile, another woman has appeared in London who appears to bear all the hallmarks of the goddess’s prophecy. It’s pretty clear, early in the story, which is the real seventh and which is the false one. Watching Alexi and his colleagues attempt to figure this out, then, is less like reading a mystery, more like reading a fairy tale, where the suspense comes from hoping against hope that the truth will out.
Then there’s the Ripper, whose real-life murder spree is incorporated into the plot and given a supernatural explanation. Alexi and his friends must find the seventh member and stop the Ripper before things get even worse.
I had a lot of fun reading The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker. Leanna Renee Hieber creates a sense of enchantment from the very beginning, and the novel caught me up in its spell during a week when my real life went completely haywire. It has the feel of a fairy tale, which is not an easy mood to sustain in a full-length novel. The Strangely Beautiful Tale is elegantly written and chock full of interesting characters and mythic themes. I especially loved watching the development of Percy from a meek mouse to a woman who knows what she’s willing to fight for.
I was briefly bothered by Percy’s mathematical bumbling, since I’ve spent much of my life bristling at “girls can’t do math” stereotypes, but when I thought about it a little more, Percy’s lack of math skills makes perfect sense for her times. Because of those same stereotypes, a woman in the Victorian era would not have received much math education before enrolling at an unconventional school like Athens.
The plot of The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker is satisfactorily wrapped up at book’s end, but there’s plenty of room for future world-saving. Hieber has planned a series of four books. I’m definitely looking forward to them!
Recommended for fans of historical fantasies like Marie Brennan‘s Onyx Court series and romantic fantasies like Maria Snyder‘s Study series.
The Darkly Luminous Fight for Persephone Parker by Leanna Renee Hieber
Percy Parker and Alexi Rychman have finally confessed their love for one another, and they and the Guard have scored a victory against the forces of evil. They scarcely have time to celebrate and regroup, though, before trouble finds them again.
Roughly the first third of The Darkly Luminous Fight for Persephone Parker focuses mainly on Percy and Alexi’s relationship, as they announce their engagement and move quickly toward marriage. The news makes plenty of waves at Athens Academy and at the convent where Percy once lived. If you wanted more closure to the romantic plot at the end of The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker, you’ll find it here. Leanna Renee Hieber gives her hero and heroine a resolution fit for fairy tales. I can see now, too, why she waited until this book to tie that storyline up. If these chapters were tacked onto the end of the first book, they’d seem too long and anticlimactic. Placed at the beginning of the second book, they work perfectly. Readers get what they want, and Hieber gets the chance to juxtapose these scenes of fulfillment with hints of a threat on the horizon.
Around the one-third mark, the fantasy plot — previously in the background — takes center stage. Old enemies are rising again, and it becomes clear that Percy will have to venture into the spectral Whisper-world alone if she is to thwart the designs of Darkness, Hieber’s “Hades” figure. Yet she will not be without help. I think I teared up a bit when I realized what all those blue dots on the Guard’s map represented. Hieber skillfully describes both the gruesome landscapes of the underworld and the beauty of Good’s transcendent powers, and places them in a quickly moving plot that will keep readers frantically turning pages. And it’s wonderful to watch Percy’s continued growth. She’s gone from a timid convent girl to a brave woman who can stand up to Kings of the Underworld and snarky math professors alike, while still being recognizably the same character.
Like its predecessor, The Darkly Luminous Fight for Persephone Parker comes to a satisfying close but leaves room for future stories starring these or different characters. Along the way, Hieber gives us plenty of her lovely, delicate prose, and a few moments that are riotously funny.
If anything, I wanted more! Specifically, I would have liked to see more development of one of the secondary romances, filling in the gap between the ending and the epilogue. Hieber has a forthcoming short story that will address this; the story is titled “A Christmas Carroll” and will appear in the anthology A Midwinter Fantasy, to be published by Dorchester in October 2010.
This sounds good!