Thursday, July 12, 2012

Review: Something Strange and Deadly

Something Strange and Deadly
By Susan Dennard
Expected publication July 24, 2012 by HarperTeen

Eleanor is of the Philadelphia Fitts, which means a lot to her mother but practically means very little to her. After all, their money is almost gone, her father has been dead for a number of years, and now it appears as though her beloved brother is missing. But that's not the biggest problem facing the Philadelphia Fitts (though, in 1876, an eligible daughter could certainly bring some wealth to the family by marrying a suitably rich young man) - no, the biggest problem would be the Dead, as in "rising from their graves and walking amongst the living" dead.

I may or may not have mentioned it before, but I am a zombie fanatic (is that even a real thing?). If you tell me there are zombies in it, I'm probably going to read it, regardless of any other details. So, when I read the blurb for this one at Midwinter, I basically stopped after the mention of zombies and put a copy in my tote bag. I am also a fan of historical fiction, so the addition of zombies could only make it better, right? Well, not exactly.

I just want to get it out of the way: this does not read like a historical fiction novel. There is very little to really indicate that this is taking place in 1876 - I mean, aside from the Exhibition taking place in Philadelphia. Sure, there are some details that fit the time period: the myriad descriptions of Eleanor's outfits, her surprise at meeting a Chinese woman, her mother's obsession with the Fitt societal standing, etc. But for all the details, it doesn't really add up to a sense or evocation of that particular time period. To me, this book could easily have been taking place in any number of time periods, or locations for that matter. So, the book is not solidly grounded in a sense of time or place - does that make it any less enjoyable?

Happily, the answer is, more or less, no. I found this book surprising and funny, with a touch of melodrama that seemed just right for the story. Eleanor may not act consistently like a 19th-century young lady, but she makes for a pretty impassioned heroine who is very easy to believe in. I lament that the Dead are not really the focus of the book, but they make several gruesome appearances, enough to mostly satisfy the promise of zombies. Thankfully, the Spirit-Hunters, who take up most of the Dead's page time, are a very fascinating group that I was eager to know more about. Dennard has created an interesting history for this group and I'm excited to read their further adventures. The romantic entanglements here are in no way surprising or unexpected, but I still found them sweet. Overall, this was an enjoyable book and apparently the first in a series, so I'll be looking forward to the next and hoping it has more zombies!

Thanks to the publisher for an advance reader's copy.

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