by Lia Habel
October 18, 2011
by Lia Habel
October 18, 2011
Love can never die.
Love conquers all, so they say. But can Cupid’s arrow pierce the hearts of the living and the dead—or rather, the undead? Can a proper young Victorian lady find true love in the arms of a dashing zombie?
The year is 2195. The place is New Victoria—a high-tech nation modeled on the manners, mores, and fashions of an antique era. A teenager in high society, Nora Dearly is far more interested in military history and her country’s political unrest than in tea parties and debutante balls. But after her beloved parents die, Nora is left at the mercy of her domineering aunt, a social-climbing spendthrift who has squandered the family fortune and now plans to marry her niece off for money. For Nora, no fate could be more horrible—until she’s nearly kidnapped by an army of walking corpses.
But fate is just getting started with Nora. Catapulted from her world of drawing-room civility, she’s suddenly gunning down ravenous zombies alongside mysterious black-clad commandos and confronting “The Laz,” a fatal virus that raises the dead—and hell along with them. Hardly ideal circumstances. Then Nora meets Bram Griswold, a young soldier who is brave, handsome, noble . . . and dead. But as is the case with the rest of his special undead unit, luck and modern science have enabled Bram to hold on to his mind, his manners, and his body parts. And when his bond of trust with Nora turns to tenderness, there’s no turning back. Eventually, they know, the disease will win, separating the star-crossed lovers forever. But until then, beating or not, their hearts will have what they desire.
In Dearly, Departed, romance meets walking-dead thriller, spawning a madly imaginative novel of rip-roaring adventure, spine-tingling suspense, and macabre comedy that forever redefines the concept of undying love.
I’ve been struggling with this review forever! Seriously, I read Dearly, Departed about two weeks ago, loved it, and then tried and failed, tried and failed at writing a review. When I started the novel, I was skeptical that a post-apocalyptic steampunk, neo-Victorian zombie novel – cool as the description sounds! – could really work in any reasonable way, but I was proved completely wrong by Lia Habel’s writing.
We’re introduced to the society of New Victoria slowly as Nora leaves her girls’ school and returns to her aunt’s house for the first time since her father’s death a year prior. The history of the society is explained in what can only be described as a well-written info dump, but I didn’t mind the flood of information at all because a) (like I said) it was very well done and b) the history and world-building involved was so intriguing! We also get a nicely detailed explanation of both the zombies and how some manage to keep their personalities and other turn into ravaging monsters. I also totally enjoyed the descriptions of the medical care needed to keep the ‘good’ zombies viable. It was definitely macabre but also incredibly interesting.
The chapters switch points-of-view between Nora and Bram, the soldier with mysterious links to Nora’s father, plus three other characters. Bram’s probably the most interesting character in the book at least partially because he’s revealed to be dead. Seriously, this guy is the most sympathetic zombie character ever. Which isn’t necessarily saying a lot since most zombies are anything but sympathetic, but even the fact that he could become both a character I’d root for is a huge achievement. (Cause really, normally zombies cause me to get my baseball bat ready)
While I’m still not a big fan of swapping viewpoint characters, for Nora and Bram the technique really worked well. The characters come from such different places that seeing their perspective filtered through their vastly different background knowledge helped both focus the book and provide the reader with a better understanding of the action. However the other three points-of-view were weakly done and didn’t add much to the story. I’d have been much happier if the only points-of-view we saw were the two main characters, and I think it would have helped to tighten and focus some of the rather sprawling story.
I’ve already admitted that Bram’s my favourite character, but Nora was nonetheless interesting. She’s perhaps cast a little too much in the mold of a typical ‘tomboy heroine’ and the special quality she’s revealed to possess made me roll my eyes slightly. Still her characterization never falls flat, and her determination, sense of humor, and devastation over her father’s death really made the character for me. I also enjoyed how slowly the relationship between Nora and Bram developed, how the trust and enjoyment of each other came slowly over time, and how they both had to deal with their own issues about not only relationships but also the idea of a relationship between a living person and a freaking zombie. Zombies aren’t lovable. This is a tenant of my paranormal beliefs that was absolutely shattered by this novel.
So this lovable zombie, Bram. He could almost be too perfect but it never felt like that. He was respectable and honourable and cared about his soldiers. He knows he only has a few years of ‘unlife’ available, and he’s decided to use them to protect civilians and to be a good soldier. That whole devotion to duty is a huge story kink of mine so it’s probably not surprising that I love the character so much.
There are some points where the writing drags a little, and they mostly come in the POV chapters that aren’t Bram or Nora’s. I think this may mostly be first-novel syndrome and hope that in the future the author will be able to edit her next books more deftly to avoid the tempo changes and slight loss of interest that occurs during them. I was really amazed with how well Habel wrote the action scenes. I never felt lost or wondering who was where during them, and they included awesome bits like stabbing a zombie in the face with a parasol. In the FACE. With a parasol.
I highly recommend this book to anyone wanting to blow their minds with such things as good guy zombies or just read a great action Steampunk tale. There are some issues with the book, but nothing serious enough to significantly downgrade my enthusiasm over it.
Thank you to NetGalley and DelRay for allowing me to read this e-ARC!