Strangely Beautiful: Excellent romantic historical fantasy

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Strangely Beautiful Kindle Edition by Leanna Renee Hieber (Author)fantasy book reviews The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker Leanna Renee HieberThe 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.fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews

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.


fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsThe 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.

Omnibus published in 2016. Originally published as two books, Strangely Beautiful unites Leanna Renee Hieber’s critically acclaimed novels in a single revised volume, restoring the author’s original vision for the work. Miss Persephone Parker—known as Percy—is different, with her lustrous, snow-white hair, pearlescent pale skin, and uncanny ability to see and communicate with ghosts. Seeking to continue her education, Percy has come to Queen Victoria’s London, to the Athens Academy. What she will learn there will change her life forever. Athens Academy is the citadel of The Guard, an ancient order that battles the forces of evil. The Victorian Guard, led by professor Alexi Rychman, is incomplete. They cannot defeat Jack the Ripper— who is more than the serial killer he appears to be—or the greater monster his appearance heralds. Percy’s lifelong habit of concealment combined with Alexi’s fevered search for the Guard’s missing seventh nearly prove disastrous as ancient Greek myths begin playing out in modern, gaslit, Victorian London. Percy and her new friends and allies must overcome their preconceptions about each other and their own histories before they can set the world to rights.

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KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.

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One comment

  1. This sounds good!

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