This book has made the rounds and no mistake. I started seeing early reviews awhile back and read a few delightful interviews with Leanna Renee Hieber and found myself intrigued to read her first novel--The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker. I was, therefore, tickled to receive a copy for review from Ms. Hieber and quickly set about settling in. I knew it was a Gothic paranormal mystery of sorts, featuring (among other things) a group of loyal comrades, a private London academy, a bit of magic, an albino, and a swoon-worthy broody professor a la Richard Armitage in North & South. *moment of silence for the awesomeness of The Armitage* And that was the extent of my pre-reading knowledge. That and the fact that I loved the cover with its simple yet moody, midnight blue and its slightly off-kilter, scripty title.
Miss Percy Parker is about to embark on an adventure, albeit a much larger one than she imagines. Leaving the convent--the only home she's ever known--and dipping her toes in the deep waters that are the Athens Academy in London, Percy is as timid as a church mouse. But with good reason. All her life she's hidden her face and skin from the outside world. Wrapped in layers of linen, eyes shielded behind smoky spectacles, this sixteen-year-old albino woman can speak language upon language and quote Shakespeare all the day long, yet she shudders at the thought of exposing her face to the world so certain is she it will be judged repulsive and unworthy. Still. She dares to hope her career at Athens Academy will be a new start. When she meets her intimidating mathematics Professor Alexi Rychman, it certainly feels like the start of something new. She's just not at all sure what that something might be. In the meantime, Professor Rychman has little time for noticing strange young women watching him with haunted eyes. He is supremely busy combing the dirty streets of London for the legendary Ripper--a nightmarish monster who has long been terrorizing the city's lost and lonely. Along with his five companions--the members of The Guard--Alexi is determined to eradicate the Ripper and at last unlock the key to their mysterious past and ancient past.
I loved describing this charming little book to everyone who asked me what I was reading that week. I'd start with the title and when I got that little mouthful out and still met with blank stares, I'd launch into the, "Well, it's a Victorian mystery and a Gothic romance and it's definitely a paranormal, with a little mythology thrown in for good measure." Hard to categorize, but easy to love is The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker. It took me about 100 pages to really get a feel for the characters. But, once I hit that 100 page mark, things suddenly got intensely fun. I loved the prologue with its swirling spirits and the back story of how the six members of The Guard originally filled their callings. But I'll admit I spent the early part of the book worried about Percy. She was so very timid. So very prone to swooning and thinking herself unworthy or any notice or care. I am not often drawn to such passive heroines and I wanted to like her as much as I liked the complicated world Ms. Hieber created and the strong personalities surrounding Percy in the guise of Alexi and his powerful companions. But every time I thought I might lose my interest in Percy, she asserted herself in some small, but important way so that my interest was piqued once more and I kept on reading. An example:
"Have I rattled you so very much?" he pressed, his voice like faraway thunder.She paused. Then, in a moment of fleeting bravery she removed her glasses and stared into his eyes. "Always."The professor almost smiled."Finally, you are honest with me."She was quick to reply. "I've never been dishonest.""Be of good cheer, faint heart, you are too easily hurt," he chided."My heart is fortified with passions, Professor; it is my confidence that is too easily undone."
Then, as I said, all the various elements of the story coalesced in a key scene where Alexi is tutoring Percy and we were off to the races. From there on out I was behind her and I knew, just as Alexi was to find out, just how important this young woman was and how he shouldn't let her go. In this tale there is much of murder and mayhem, love and longing, overwrought emotion and ultimate evil. As well as one exquisitely beautiful scene of dancing in an empty corridor that will charm the pants right off of you. I had a lovely time reading it and recommend it for anyone who loves all things Victorian, Gothic, mythological, and sweet, for The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker is all of these things.