Sunday, September 16, 2012

"The Dead were very real. And the Dead were here."

4 out of 5 stars

Eleanor Fitt has problems. Her beloved brother, Elijah, is missing; her mother keeps throwing Eleanor at every rich bachelor she can find; and the walking dead have suddenly made an appearance on the streets of Philadelphia. Plus, because it's 1876, Eleanor also has to deal with petticoats, parasols, and corsets while dealing with all these problems.

Yeah, try running around, fighting off ravenous zombies in this getup!

To be honest, it took me a while to get into this book and start liking it. I don't know about anyone else, but when I start reading a novel, I expect to be swept away, to be immersed in the story and the characters. In the best books, I get so involved with the words on the page that I'm able to ignore completely the world around me, to block out everything but those characters and that story. Yet with Something Strange and Deadly, for the longest time, what I was reading was just words on a page, people moving and talking and doing stuff, but without any emotional involvement from me. I often found myself... not quite bored, not quite bewildered, but in a strange state of expectancy, waiting for the characters to develop into more than just names on the page, waiting for the story to take off and actually start going somewhere. Though it took a while (to the point that I was almost ready to give up on the book), that all changed and the story and characters finally managed to grab hold of my imagination.

I think part of my problem had to do with Eleanor. Though she tried to be a proper Victorian maiden, she rebelled, often in small ways, but still she fought. For that, I should've liked her, but there was just something about her voice, her attitude, which grated on me. She often came across as whiny, self-indulgent, and imperious. Her nickname, “Empress,” given to her by another character, Daniel, was justly deserved, at least at the beginning of the novel. Thankfully, she grew as a character, losing some of that imperiousness along the the way and gaining a bit more humility. (Oh, and towards the end of the book, because she's called Miss Fitt, as is proper, there's a lot of 'misfit' jokes as her rebellious nature comes out in full force, which grow tiresome after a while.)

There's a mystery at the heart of the book, revolving around the man, the necromancer, who has caused the dead to rise, and as a mystery, it's easy to solve: You know who the necromancer is within a short amount of time. It's watching the others figure out the man's identity which propels the action. Speaking of which, there's a lot of that, from the very first chapter, and once the story coalesces the action picks up speed as well. Zombies, martial arts, pulse bombs, Spirit-Hunters. Now, with everything that's going on, you might be forgiven for thinking that this is a steampunk novel, but it's not; it's more of an alternative history with a few neat gizmos and gadgets thrown in.

And zombies. Don't forget those zombies.

There's also romance running through the novel, with two suitors vying for Eleanor's hand, and here's where Dennard got creative. As the story progresses, you think you see where that romance is going, but Dennard throws a curveball and switches things up (am I mixing my metaphors here?), keeping you on your toes. It was a nice change of pace.

In the end, I have to say, though I wasn't expecting it, I found myself completely wrapped up in the story, so that when the end came I was almost pissed that the book was over. However, because of the way that ending was set-up (there's an obvious sequel in the works), I find myself eagerly awaiting the next adventure of the intrepid Miss Eleanor Fitt and the Spirit-Hunters.

Read September 11-14, 2012
Reviewed for the Amazon Vine Program September 16, 2012

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