My rating: 3 of 5 stars
It’s taken me a while to figure out exactly how to review this book. The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker has a lot in it I like quite a bit, but on the other hand, it’s also got some elements that drive me absolutely crazy. The core concept is certainly Relevant to My Interests: an urban fantasy scenario, only set in a period time frame, and written in a style heavily influenced by old-school Gothic romances. We’ve got a secret society of men and women whose function is to protect London from ghosts and other supernatural creatures, and who discover that the strange young albino woman who shows up at their academy may be their prophesied seventh member, vital to their defense against an ultimate forthcoming evil.
All well and good. And certainly I must say that Ms. Hieber at many points in this book turns a lovely phrase indeed, very nicely evoking the Gothic style.
The problem for me is, there are also many points where she goes a bit far for my tastes in evoking that style. Our young heroine, Miss Percy Parker, spends just about all of her on-camera time dewily mooning over her handsome professor, the leader of the aforementioned secret society, Alexi Rychman. This frustrates me for several reasons. One, Percy is apparently brilliant in all of her classes except his, yet we never see her actually being particularly brilliant. Two, despite the fact that she’s handed an opportunity to have private tutoring sessions with her professor, she spends way, WAY more time swooning over him than she does actually trying to apply herself to learning anything from him, which would have made me respect her as a character quite a bit more. And three, there was just way too much emphasis, seemingly every third or fourth paragraph in these scenes, about Alexi’s “rich voice” and “noble brow”. All of this is rather appropriate for a traditional Gothic heroine, don’t get me wrong–but in a modern work, I find myself hoping for more, a better balance between the Gothic story tropes and a modern reader’s sensibilities.
My other main point of frustration has to do with the big climax of the story, about which I can say little, since I don’t want to spoil it. I will however freely disclaim that this book ties into certain aspects of Greek mythology about which I have very, very strong opinions–and in fact about which I’ve written a story of my own, so I can’t really address the ending of the story and what’s revealed there in a suitably unbiased manner.
I will say though that if Gothic romance is your thing, you’ll probably eat this book right up. And again, Ms. Hieber’s command of her prose is often very lovely, if you don’t mind your prose in shades of purple. Three stars.