YA Paranormal/Steampunk, 400 pages
Acquired and read: From Edelweiss review copies in return for an unbiased, honest review; I read it the exact same night I received it (Thank God - and Amazon - for the Kindle. Amen.)
Challenge? 2012 Debut Author Challenge
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.
First of all, I feel the need to give a mild disclaimer. Are you looking for zombie-zombies? Do you feel the need to read raw, dripping paragraphs of pure gore and nausea-inducing scenes? Do you think that life is incomplete without the heart-thumping moment when you realize that your undead house guest has the need for "braaaaains..." and yours is the next on the menu?
I am afraid that Something Strange and Deadly is not the book for you.
But for delicate, tea-sipping readers like moi: take heart! You can read this without loosening your corset or breaking out the smelling salts. Mostly. And if you do, well...Eleanor Fitt doesn't hang with faint-hearted girls.
Speaking of Eleanor, if I were you, I'd sit up and take note. After all, not every girl doesn't mind ripping a petticoat (or two) or sacrificing her earring for the greater good. She does come from a (slightly cliche) family situation: Daddy's dead, Mom is concerned (read: obsessed) with pairing her off with the typical rich but secretly dark and possibly *gasps* not the main love interest guy.
Oh, and she's just received a ransom note via zombie - don't wince like that, it's all the rage with half-crazed necromancers these days - for her beloved brother, Elijah.
What is a properly bred, delicate flower like Eleanor to do?
If this were an interactive novel, I'm sure the choices would be A. swoon and hope that the zombie hasn't lost his ingrained memory of chivalry, B. grab up the nearest victim and throw it in the dead's path, shrieking, "Take her first, and you can have Elijah too! I'm too young to die!" and C. say your prayers because it'll all be over son (for your sake, I hope so).
Eleanor, however, is the type of girl who would take the exam paper and write a new bubble out: D. Get in there and be awesome! She ends up running with a pack just like her: the Spirit Hunters (when there's a zombie, who are you gonna call?), who are basically these steampunky-invention wielding, zombie-slaying team that is determined to get to the bottom of this sudden Undead outbreak.
There are a few moments where Eleanor's action does stumble - in particular, when she starts falling in love. My sister pointed out that the man in question couldn't have been the first man she'd ever met (at some points, their relationship was reminding me of Eugene and Rapunzel and that whole "I've never known someone like you..." aspect of it), but as neither of us have felt that brain-crippling, stomach-tickling emotion that is "twu wuv" before, you shouldn't quote us on it.
And of course, where a skirt-ripping heroine is born, available love interests sprout up like weeds. In Eleanor's case, her leading man is Daniel - snarky, spirited, possibly struggling under the burden of a dark and haunted past (oh, doesn't he make you swoon already)? He does sound awfully like the bare-chested hero of a bodice-ripper, but believe me, he's a bit more deeper than that - and he certainly isn't afraid of telling Eleanor exactly what he thinks of her family's former uppity reputation ("Congratulations! You're practically royalty!", or where she can stay when a zombie attack occurs (Behind him at all times...don't you hate it when a man tells you that?).
But he's dedicated to his cause, and he likes to invent, which gives him major points for being brainy. And did I mention he's handsome? What more do you want - Mr. Darcy?
Too bad. He's already taken.
The story is based around Philadelphia, which makes it easier for a reader to know what sort of terrain is being covered, even if it's all glitzy and old-fashioned and coated with clockwork cogs. I would have liked a bit more description of the areas being covered, but - eh. You can't have it all.
Again, I feel the need to point out that this is not actually a zombie novel. If you're looking for that type of YA, try The Forest of Hands and Teeth. Or ask a friend to chase you around the house for a little bit until you feel better about yourself and your (very much alive) world.
Just, you know, don't try to create an undead army at home. It won't be pretty.
Something Strange and Deadly may be a little rough (and zombie-flavored) around the edges, but please, don't be afraid to invite it in for some cozy reading time. To me, it definitely lived up to all expectations, and made sure that Susan Dennard has one major fan for the rest of her career - but I think she already knows that I kinda take her as a writing hero.
And remember, if the zombies try to bite, aim for the knees.
You'll be glad you did.
Warnings: (Or, things that even if I think the author is nearly as awesome as sugar cubes, I cannot condone) Zombies. Duh. Also, there's a few instances of strong language, and a little innuendo, and gore, and character death that I was actually expecting (so not hankie warning...not really).