Friday, 28 May 2010

The Strangley Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker by Leanna Renee Hieber

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Set in Victorian times, six teenagers are chosen to be "The Guard" and keep London safe from paranormal disturbances. 
Twenty years on, pale (and not particularly interesting) Percy Parker arrives at Athens Academy.  Although older than their usual students she has been recommended due to her amazing ability to learn languages.  Abandoned at a convent by her dying mother and left only a phoenix pendant to remember her by, Percy is also able to see and hear ghosts and has strange visions that she doesn't understand.  After suffering the contempt of the church for her "gifts" and compounded by her unusual looks Percy finds it difficult to be around people and so wanders through life swathed in fabric.
The Guard have all taken on day jobs with Rebecca Thompson the headmistress of Athens and Alexi Rychman a professor in the school.  Prophesy has told them that at some point they will find a seventh to join them and Alexi, the leader of the group, is convinced that this will be the return of their Goddess and his soul mate. 
Percy is immediately taken by the aloof and powerful professor Rychman, her failure to cope with his classes in mathematics leads to remedial tutorials which leads Alexi to question whether it is possible that Percy could be the seventh?
I thought this  bit of an odd one, to me it's could be retitled The strangely rather boring tale of Miss Percy Parker, as not a lot happens and I'm a bit underwhelmed by it all.  It's a reworking of the Persephone myth (guess what Percy is short for!) where she is tricked by Hades into the underworld and parted from her true love.  the book itself is a mix of mildly Gothic paranormal and twee romance, with lots of restrained desire and longing glances.  At first I suspected it was written for the teen audience but as all The Guard characters are mid to late thirties and regularly described as old and/or longing for their youth I doubt it, but when reading it with that audience in mind, I could forgive some of the more cringe worthy sections. (Okay, mini gripe here, and I know mid thirties were truly middle aged in Victorian times, but come on - they're hardly in their dotage!)
I have several reservations, firstly Percy is sooo dull.  She's a timid little creature with no self respect, she has victim written all over her and so that makes the transformation at the end even more unbelievable.  She hates her looks, spends all her time telling people that she is reviled despite the evidence in the book that most men seem to find her different but alluring because of it.  She shows no backbone and is pathetic when Alexi turns her away. 
Alexi is meant to be the stereotypical dark, brooding, magnetic hero and it sort of works but I can only stand "regal" and "noble" so many  times and both were overused to describe all aspects of his bearing throughout.  This insistent on withdrawing from any relationships due to the prophesy was also a bit trite...and made him come across as a bit of a sanctimonious, self righteous prig.  Not what you want in your romantic lead, really.  The chaste, restrained love affair did fit with the setting and atmosphere of the story, but was all a bit too agonised for my taste.
The rest of the guard were pretty forgettable and unimaginative, most suffering from unrequited love and i didn't care! I also sussed what Lucille was straight away without the heavy hints, and suspect the majority of readers would!  I found the descriptions of London at the time of the Ripper to be weak and not atmospheric, it was all a bit too pedestrian and missed a trick.
I bought this as it came up as an Amazon recommendation and didn't realise it was part of a series, I doubt I'll bother with the others as the characters didn't make sufficient impression on me to care what happens next.