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!