Book Review: Something Strange and Deadly

Title/Author:  Something Strange and Deadly by Susan Dennard
(Something Strange and Deadly #1)

Genre:  Young Adult, Science Fiction, Steampunk, Historical Fantasy, Zombies

Published:  July 24th, 2012 by HarperTeen

Hardcover, 388 pages

How I Got The Book:  Checked it out from the library

Why I Picked It Up?:  I’ve been looking for more zombie books, and this one just came out and was getting very interesting reviews.  So of course I had to check it out!

Book Jacket Blurb:  “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.”

My Review of this Work:

As Zombie Week here at A Librarian’s Library comes to a close, I wanted to feature a zombie book that wasn’t of the post-zombie apocalypse variety.  So what better way to end a week than by featuring a historical fantasy/steampunk zombie novel.

Something Strange and Deadly takes place in Philadelphia just a few years after the end of the Civil War.  Eleanor is a young woman of society, though her family is hiding their poverty behind their prestigious name.  With her father deceased and her brother off traveling, Eleanor is left with only her mother, who is pressuring her to find a suitable suitor.  But when an entertainment seance turns up a real spirit the same day that dead come to Philadelphia, Eleanor is thrust into dangerous situations that her mother would definitely not approve of.

This is classified as “steampunk”, and while there is some elements of 19th century world, I wish it was expounded upon more.  I have not read much steampunk (though what I have read I have enjoyed), but this is not as developed as what the little I have read.  Cassandra Clare’s Infernal Devices series takes place in the same era, and you can definitely tell that the story takes place in Victorian England.  This story takes place post-Civil War, but change some of the dialogue and it’s no longer a 19th century setting.  It’s still too modern, and the setting is just not convincing enough to be steampunk to me.

I do, however, appreciate the 19th century setting for zombies.  I really do like the necromancer concept.  Such a fantastical element added into a typically science-centered world (you know, rampant viruses that turn people into Hungry killers).  Raising the dead via mysticism and controlling them to use as an army is a very intriguing concept. Especially when the zombies walking around are all wearing Union soldier outfits.  Rather than the present population turning into ravenous dead walkers, the necromancer is literally raising the dead and linking a soul to each of them, allowing them to be controlled.  This is a very interesting concept that I would be willing to read and explore further.

As for the characters, I feel like most of them fall kind of flat for me.  Eleanor is the narrator of this story, and yet I got to the end of this novel and felt mostly indifferent to her.  She is supposed to be the heroine of the story, yet she is a forgettable character for me.  Don’t get me wrong, I liked her just fine.  But there is just not a quality about her that stands out to me.  It seems like she is a heroine that is special because of circumstance, not really because of any strength of character.  And the introspective one gains from the first-person narration doesn’t do much for her development as a character.  Eleanor’s development would have been the exact same if this story was told in third person.  I did, however, love the minor characters.  The Spirit Hunters–Daniel, Joseph, and Jie–are actually well-developed characters that you just can’t help but love.  And Daniel becomes a very interesting interest 😉 .

One element of this novel that I really didn’t understand is the spirit that is unleashed at the seance in the beginning.  I mean, okay, I understand what it is and what it’s purpose is by the end, but it is an ever-lingering presence (no pun intended) that is just not ever explained well.  Mostly, it is mentioned like “Oh, the room gets cold.  It’s the Spirit.”  It comes in and out of the story suddenly without any real lead ins or transitions, making this element of the story quite awkward at times.

There will be at least a sequel written to this book, but I am unsure if I will read it or not.  To me, I felt like this story would have done much better as a standalone novel.  I really have no real investment in the characters for their story to continue in another book or few, and while I liked the storyline in this book, I feel like the story is self-contained–there just was no propulsion at the end of this novel that leads to the necessity of a sequel.  Yes, a sequel can be written based on a couple of loose ends, but this could just as easily been a standalone.  That fact makes me less likely to pick up the sequel.

Overall, I can see why a lot of people have really enjoyed this novel.  There is definite excitement and mystery, plus the whole 1876 zombie rising thing, which is different and really cool.  But this novel just didn’t reach a level of development that would make it a great novel.  It was enjoyable but not all that unique.  Maybe I read the sequel, and maybe I don’t.  I just feel indifferent about this as a series (when I might have liked it as a standalone).  But with so many positive reviews, I know a lot of people really enjoyed this one.  It is definitely worth you trying it out, especially if you are a fan of this genre!

My Bookshelf Rating:

A Middle Shelf Book.

There were things I enjoyed about this book and things I did not enjoy so much.  On the one hand, I really loved the historical fantasy/steampunk setting for a zombie rising.  But I felt like this version of historical fantasy/steampunk missed a mark with me that has been set by other works.  It was an enjoyable story (even if it was about 75 pages too long), but it wasn’t anything fantastic.  Recommended for fans of novels such as Cassandra Clare’s The Infernal Devices (because it is a VERY similar story).

Love and Football Season!,
Jennifer

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2 thoughts on “Book Review: Something Strange and Deadly

  1. kimbacaffeinate says:

    Nice review, I enjoyed this, I liked the protagonist. This has elements of steampunk, but not as much as I would like. A lot of books are sprinkling bits and piece of other genres into their work. Although this at least has it consistently throughout the novel.

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