Something Strange and Deadly by Susan Dennard

3 05 2012

The years is 1876, and there’s something strange and deadly loose in Philadelphia…

Eleanor Fitt has a lot to worry about. Her brother has gone missing, her family has fallen on hard times, and her mother is determined to marry her off to any rich young man who walks by. But this is nothing compared to what she’s just read in the newspaper—

The Dead are rising in Philadelphia.

And then, in a frightening attack, a zombie delivers a letter to Eleanor…from her brother.

Whoever is controlling the Dead army has taken her brother as well. If Eleanor is going to find him, she’ll have to venture into the lab of the notorious Spirit-Hunters, who protect the city from supernatural forces. But as Eleanor spends more time with the Spirit-Hunters, including their maddeningly stubborn yet handsome inventor, Daniel, the situation becomes dire. And now, not only is her reputation on the line, but her very life may hang in the balance

Recently, I was emailing with an author who writes steampunk. She gave me permission to print this excerpt from her email:

I know this book won’t be for everyone and I knew from the get go the hard core steampunkcommunity probably wouldn’t like it, but I still want to put out the best story I am capable of.

Something Strange and Deadly seems to fit this quotation very well. It isn’t a hardcore steampunk, but it’s an interesting steampunk (and it actually has steampunk!). The story isn’t perfect, but I really enjoyed the book and I think that I will continue to read the rest of the series.

Eleanor Fitt (“Miss Fitt”) lives in 1800’s Philadelphia. Her father has recently died and her older brother, Elijah, went on a trip and has not returned. Eleanor lives at home with her uptight mother and spends her days courting suitors, entertaining guests, and hanging out with other suitable young ladies. Philadelphia is perfect and lovely, but there’s an issue: the Dead (zombies) are rising. Eleanor must work with a group of three Spirit-Hunters to take down the zombies and find her brother.

So this book is really fun. I whizzed through it in a few hours and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was fast paced and many of the twists I didn’t expect. I found the mystery to be fairly predictable and who the necromancer was to me was not shocking. Still I enjoyed the book. However I have two main things to note (one good, the other bad):

1. the zombies aren’t really that scary! First off, the premise for this book is basically awesome personified, because steampunk + zombies = awesomeness, usually every time. I was really eager to begin and see how the author would put a twist on zombies. Well, her zombies are fairly traditional (flesh eating, destroyed, pale, etc) and they aren’t really described in much detail. I never really could get an understanding of what these zombies looked like. And the descriptions that were included of the zombies weren’t really that scary and I wasn’t scared of the zombies at all, more scared for the situations that the characters had found themselves in. I never really felt the threat of the zombies. But I understood the zombies and how they worked and acted, even if they were barely described/shown. I also loved that the author actually gave them a name — “the Dead” is a bit more unique than just “zombies”.

2. there is actually steampunk in this book! Steampunk seems to be making a resurgence in the YA world at least in the titles I have seen. (Of course, some say that steampunk is already out, so…) Of these new titles, many reviewers have said that they felt that there was not enough steampunk in them, that the steampunk element was barely shown and simply thrown in by the publisher or author. Something Strange and Deadly, however, actually makes an effort and a point to show steampunk elements beyond the book blurb and a few scattered mentions throughout the text. Victorian society (teas, balls) is mentioned alongside elevators and machines and goggles, and there is even an explanation to how the world suddenly became so steampunk. I was very impressed with Dennard’s skills here; she is a strong world-builder, it seems, and I enjoyed reading about her 1800-steampunk world.

On the characters, I really enjoyed all of them. Eleanor was very well rounded and I liked that her flaws were shown (as well as a scene where she is shown to have never seen a Chinese person before; this really showed her flaws and the views she had learned in her culture). I was unsurprised about her romance with Daniel but they seemed well suited enough and I liked that the romance really took a backseat to you know, saving Philadelphia from zombies. Daniel, Joesph, and Jie (the Spirit-Hunters) were well rounded though we did not learn much information about them beyond their personalities and backstories.

Dennard’s writing is easy to read and mixes the right amount of formality and modern-day terms. She seems like a writer to watch.

I enjoyed this book a lot and I will be looking for the next book in this series, due in 2013.

—-

FTC Disclaimer: I received this book for review from HarperCollins in exchange for an honest review. No money or other bribes were exchanged.

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