Thursday, June 20, 2013

Review: Something Strange and Deadly by Susan Dennard

The year 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.

Hardcover, 388 pages

Published July 24th 2012 by HarperTeen 
(info grabbed from GoodReads)

Something Strange and Deadly had everything I could ever want in a historical fiction novel: a dynamic heroine, swoon worthy gents, Centennial Philadelphia setting, and zombies.  I don’t think I really have to point out what makes this book special, but just in case you missed it, here again: zombies.  A steampunk zombie novel.  But labeling it so just doesn’t do it justice.

I really liked the addition of magic and voodoo to the story.  Within zombie fiction, there are two main types of zombies that every other classification of zombie fall into, those being biological or demonic.  Biological has become much more common and are in books such as Feed by Mira Grant and movies such as Resident Evil.  Biological zombies happen from a disastrous science experiment or virus causing the condition of being a zombie.  Biological zombies can be scientifically explained and zombification spreads more like a disease.  Demonic zombies are more spiritually based in origins and are a bit more flexible in what they are defined as.  The main thing about demonic zombies is that there is a necromancer or wizard controlling them for his bidding, typically.  In Something Strange and Deadly, Susan Dennard made a story about a girl and a boy while tying in demonic zombies invading Philadelphia and sprinkling some voodoo and the magic of friendship on top.  How can that not be a winning combination?

I’m honestly not a fan of the rag-tag-thrown-together-band-of-friends trope, but it works in this case.  Every character within the group is well defined and has their own quirks that add to the story.  The two main characters weren’t really enough to keep me totally vexed into the story, and the side characters give the story a bit more pizzazz.  The Spirit-Hunters are also the main source of steampunk goodness in the book, so as much as the rag-tag group trope bothers me, it is necessary in this story.  It’s not particularly annoying, I’m just being particularly critical.

One big criticism I have is that the action scenes were not very clear.  I found them very confusing and it was very difficult to follow what was going on.  It’s kind of a huge problem since with any zombie book, action is going to be a big element.  It doesn’t compromise the story itself, but when it comes to getting a bright, beautiful picture with some steampunk glory and zombie gore, well… there was no picture forming in my head.  It was just words on a page.  Imagery suffered a bit in the book -- I felt that there should be more in general and that the setting should have been played up more.  Again, I still really liked this book and am going to attribute this issue to Something Strange and Deadly being a debut.  Hopefully, we will see the author grow and write some fantastic action scenes in the sequel.

Overall, Something Strange and Deadly is a great debut.  It throws a lot of things that haven’t been done together and combines them to form a story that is something familiar and refreshing at the same time.  It is a story that any zombie aficionado won’t want to miss and any historical fiction fan who is curious how zombies could force their way into Centennial Philly.

Final Thought: 10 out of 12 toadstools

This review is also posted on GoodReads

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