The Strangely Beautiful Tale
of Miss Percy Parker
Strangely Beautiful #1
Author: Leanna Renee Heiber
Publisher: Dorchester Publishing Company, Inc.
Length: 324 pages
Release Date: 10/01/2009
Acquired: borrowed from a friend
Excerpts available here
What fortune awaited sweet, timid Percy Parker at Athens Academy? Considering how few of Queen Victoria’s Londoners knew of it, the great Romanesque fortress was dreadfully imposing, and little could Percy guess what lay inside.
She had never met the powerful and mysterious Professor Alexi Rychman, knew nothing of the growing shadow, the Ripper and other supernatural terrors against which his coterie stood guard. She knew simply that she was different, haunted, with her snow-white hair, pearlescent skin and uncanny gifts.
But this arched stone doorway offered a portal to a new life, an education far from the convent—and an invitation to an intimate yet dangerous dance at the threshold of life and death…
My thoughts, which include spoilers… thou hast been warned:
As children, Alexi Rychman and five others were possessed by ancient spirits. They didn’t lose any sense of themselves but they were changed. While still themselves, they were also now The Guard and were each given powers and charged with The Grand Work: to “maintain the balance between this world and the one beyond” and to “guard the living from the dead wandering the earth”.
As Alexi explains later in the book, “There is a group charged with maintaining the relative peace of day-to-day mortality, protecting it from the dead by the mix of their own mortal talents and a few… special forces.”
On the night of their possession, the children are given instructions by a goddess who appeared to them from a portal inside the chapel of the Athens Academy school in London. She tells them that they must await a seventh member of their group, Prophecy, who will appear among portents and signs to join them in their fight against Darkness, who wishes to overrun the world of the living. And so the six -Alexi, Rebecca, Michael, Lucy, Elijah and Josephine- tend to the tasks given unto them as they wait for their prophesied seventh. They wait for 21 long years before not one, but two prospects are placed in their path, as the goddess foretold when she warned them to take care in their choice.
First comes Miss Percy Parker. Orphaned and raised in a convent, she is an outcast due to her unusually pale skin, hair and eyes. Of course, she’s albino but in 1888, that’s no more normal than it is today, perhaps even less so. Her most prized possession is a phoenix pendant left to her by her mother before she died and her only friends are the spirits of the dead, which she can both see and speak with. She is accepted into Athens Academy at the age of 18 (going on 19) by the Headmistress, Rebecca Thomson who also happens to be one of The Guard. Due to her less than stellar performance in mathematics, Percy is soon getting private lessons from her mathematics professor whom she is quite enamored of, one Alexi Rychman.
Percy is both a source of frustration and fascination to Alexi. He attempts to prod her into being less timid, in part by ordering that she remove the gloves, scarf and colored glasses that she wears all the time. Though it’s difficult for Percy to remove her protective coverings, she does so during their tutoring sessions and is pleased when her professor doesn’t look at her any differently. All the while, he’s wondering if she could be the seventh that he’s waited for.
Next on the scene is Lucille Linden, a beautiful and mysterious woman who appears out of nowhere, seeking protection and the help of Alexi and The Guard. To all but Alexi, she seems to fit the profile of their seventh but of course, she is anything but. She is what the goddess warned them of on that first night so many years before. And so there is division in the ranks of The Guard: Alexi’s choice of Percy as the seventh against, well… everyone else, who like Lucille for the job.
I absolutely loved the setting of this story… Victorian London, where the Ripper is running rampant and is a supernatural being rather than a man. I also got a kick out of the tie-in to the mythological story of Persephone. I enjoyed the interaction between the characters and that Heiber makes them so believable. They’re funny and expressive, they have secret desires and hopes, they have difficulty coping with the weight of duty that they carry and Heiber imparts all of this emotion profoundly yet efficiently. I grew to like and care about all of them, even the ones that we really don’t get as much face time as Percy, Alexi and even Rebecca.
Finally, the language… ahh, the language. It’s beautiful and dramatic and I was truly captivated while reading this book. I’m happy to have received the second book in the series (signed and inscribed by the author, yay!), ‘The Darkly Luminous Fight for Persephone Parker’ as a prize in an online giveaway so that I can jump right in and hopefully be ready for book #3 when it’s released next week!
‘When left to her own devices, Miss Parker was neither shy nor awkward; she was radiant.’ ~Alexi’s thoughts upon seeing Percy dancing with the ghosts
“Come, mein Leibe, there are errands to run, flowers to gather and dreams yet to be planned.” ~Marianna to Percy
“Come into the light, Miss Parker, for I’ll not allow you to slink in the shadows. To do so would be to eclipse the moon.” ~Edward
“Hello again, you filthy creature of hell!” ~Alexi