Review: Something Strange & Deadly by Susan Dennard

Something Strange & Deadly
Susan Dennard

HarperTeen
Released July 24, 2012
388 pages
YA / Zombies / Steampunkish

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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.

I feel like I should make some horrible pun about how there is something strange about Something Strange and Deadly, but I think that would be a cheap way to start a review of a book I thoroughly enjoyed. Though the pieces of the puzzle were all too familiar, Dennard put them together in a way that created a new sort of picture. There was a fair amount of predictability to it, but that didn’t dampen my enjoyment of this strange little book about zombies in a slightly steampunkish late 19th century Philadelphia. To be honest the predictability might have allowed me to enjoy the stylistic elements even more.

Something Strange and Deadly is about Eleanor Fitt of the Philadelphia Fitts, who was once a part of high society until her father died from a broken heart after his shipping company exploded (literally). Now she’s attempting to play the part at the behest of her mother in order to snag a rich bachelor to save them both before the world realizes exactly how poor they have become. Eleanor is a willful girl, who wants more out of life than to be a trophy wife though, and instead finds herself in all sorts of trouble with questionable types. In that sense, this book could have easily slipped into a comedy of manners or any sort of Victorian era rom-com, so Dennard throws in some zombies to mix things up.

The zombie element is your standard scientist gone bad turning to necromancy to bring down his enemies. Been there, done that. But then toss in an adversary for the necromancer in the form of a Cajun voodoo master who can counteract all that bad mojo. And then give him two sidekicks: a young Asian woman rolling through life as a young boy and an uncouth hooligan with a shady past, who happens to be handy at creating weird metaphysical gadgets. Things get interesting.

Especially when the prim and proper Ms. Fitt meets the grimy, impolite hooligan and they have to find a way to stand each other long enough to save the city. I don’t really care much for love triangles, but I do have a weird thing for will-they-won’t-they couples and especially I-hate-you-I-love-you couples. Eleanor and Daniel satisfied both those categories with their angry banter, flirtatious hatred, and occasional make out sessions in dark corners that they promptly pretended didn’t happen. Daniel sort of reminded me of Daryl Dixon (The Walking Dead television show) if Daryl was a rough around the edges inventor with a tendency of getting himself into trouble. He’s loveable in his roughness, but definitely not sweet. I think he might deck you if you call him sweet. I had a little issue with his background – mostly because he’s from Chicago, but talks like he was born and raised in the deep South – but by the end, I didn’t care. I just swooned.

I suppose there is a kind of love triangle in Something Strange and Deadly, but I didn’t really see anyone other than Daniel. I’m just thankful that the third point of the triangle, Clarence, was not an asshat. He had everything pointing towards asshattery, but he was a generally nice guy trying to make up for wrongs he did in his past.

Dennard surprised me at times with small details. In one particular element right at the beginning of the final confrontation, she did something I would have never dreamed a possibility much less it being described in such gory details. Her writing flows so smoothly, it doesn’t get in the way of her characters and plotting to the point that this was like watching a movie in my head instead of reading a book. Her Philadelphia is so vivid and her characters are so alive. Eleanor is strong and courageous despite her social standing, and I loved her. She’s like a young Alexia Tarabotti without the werewolf fetish (see Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series) and YA fiction needs more leading women like that.

The ending left so much open and left me with an aching longing for the next in the series. Dennard’s zombies are incredibly creepy and gave me nightmares for a few nights after I finished, but Daniel. Oh, Daniel! I don’t think I’ve adored a ruffian some much. I strongly recommend this series for anyone who is fond of smash ups of zombies in historic settings as well as anyone looking for a strong heroine and an eclectically vivid cast of characters. As I told the author on Twitter, I will be harrassing (kindly) HarperTeen for the sequel until it comes out.

 

I got a copy of this book from the library and have long since given it back. The review is all my own.