Leisure, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-8439-6296-3
Historical Fantasy Romance, 2009
Ten pages into Leanna Renesmee, sorry, Leanna Renee Hieber’s debut romance with Leisure, The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker, my thought is, “Eeuw! It’s Bella Swan! Kill it, kill it, somebody!”
In this alternate Victorian setting, we have the Guardians. Handpicked by a sparkling version of Gaia when they were kids, each Guardian has his or her own power. Instead of Fire, Water, Heart, or whatever, we have Intuition, Memory, and some others. Our hero Alexi Rychman is the Power, which is way more interesting than Memory and Healing if you ask me. Whether he gets the extra cool factor because he is the jailbait reincarnation of lover of the sparkling Gaia-type “Goddess”, I will never know. At any rate, the six Guardians are supposed to protect the world from great evil or something, although given that we have all six of them residing in England in this story, I guess “world” in this instance translates to “England; everyone else can go to perdition”.
Oh, and the sparkling Goddess leaves them with nothing more than a vague instruction to look out for the seventh member, who will show up sooner or later. Since the Goddess has managed to lose one Guardian, you can imagine how useless she is in leaving the Guardians with any useful means or even information on how to stop some upcoming war with spooks.
So, thirteen years later, we see that Alexi and the Intuition woman, Rebecca Thompson, have set up the Athens Academy, a school for the gifted kids who are not photogenic enough to get into Hogwarts. Alexi, at 36, is soon fascinated by 18-year old student Persephone “Percy” Parker. Percy is an albino, she can see and communicate with ghosts, some of whom naturally adore her, and while real life kids sneer at her and view her as weird, Alexi sees her as a goddess. Percy is gifted in everything, except for numbers, which gives Alexi an excuse to tutor her. Meanwhile, Percy spends her time acting like Melinda Doolittle in the sixth season of American Idol. Ohmigosh, people think she’s beautiful! Omigosh! Such contrived cuteness wears thin after a while, I have to admit.
This story can easily be read by kids, since its sensuality level is pretty tame, and appropriately enough, the characters here display a lack of sophistication and maturity that have me thinking that they are better off being characters in a book meant for very young kids. Alexi and Percy turn out to be lawful stupid creatures as the story progresses, especially when they are determined to play the martyr and behave melodramatically as a result. The other Guardians are one-dimensional stick figures. There’s a French Woman, who goes “Oui! Oui! Au revoir!” in case people forget where she’s from. She supplies the occasional saucy lines because we all know French women are randy nymphomaniacs gagging for it anywhere and everywhere. Oui! Oui! There’s the Rake, then there is the Lovelorn Vicar, along with the Artist Woman, the Healer Woman, and the Frigid Hag. Naturally, Alexi is the Edward while Percy is the Bella.
In line with the lack of complexity in the story, the Guardians are bewilderingly naïve, letting themselves be taken in by a villain with such ease that I can only imagine that the sparkling Goddess didn’t communicate with them all this while because she is hiding in shame for the mistake she has made in picking these simple people as her champions. They, including Alexi and Percy, can be so blind to the more obvious warning signs that I can’t take them seriously as adults, much less people with powers to save the world. The main villain comes off as a big blustering idiot while the rest of the world building is vague. The pacing is really slow – the threat of the villain fades into the background for so long, nobody seems to be taking that threat seriously at all. And since we are talking about Jack the Ripper here… well, I suppose getting special Percy to sparkle with magic is the most important thing in this instance.
Still, the story is pretty well-written with a hint of grace and poetry in the prose. Percy is never as bad as Bella – she may be a simpleton who is too precious too often and who is prone to play the martyr in the name of love, but she is never as disgustingly weak and pathetic as that creature. Alexi is also a lawful stupid twit, and I have to say that I actually laugh at how unintentionally comical his melodramatic outburst is late in the story when he realizes that Percy is this close to joining the sparkling beautiful souls in heaven. Still, he’s not as bad as Edward. Then again, coming off favorably when being compared to those two is no great compliment, I know.
At the end of the day, this story is a painless read, and that’s the best compliment I can give it. The pace is too slow for my liking, the main characters are not as smart, deep, or well developed as I’d have preferred, and the whole magic and Guardian thing remains pretty vague at the end of the day. Reading this story is like having a pleasant but unremarkable dream that I can barely remember when I wake up. I won’t be averse to reading another book by this author, but I’m not sure whether I can recommend this book.
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