Thursday, December 1, 2011

Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel

Release date: October 18, 2011
Publisher: Del Rey
Pages: 470
Format: Hardcover
Buy the book: Barnes & Noble | Amazon | The Book Depository
Ebook available from: Barnes & Noble | Amazon
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.
I had absolutely no doubt that I would love Dearly, Departed. I mean, have you read that synopsis??? It can be boiled down to: Victorian zombies in the future. YES. That is a dream come true for me. And while I knew  I loved the premise, I ended up loving the characters and the story even more.

 Big highlight? The world-building! Within the first couple of chapters, there was a workingly basic explanation of what had happened to get the people in the situation they were in. As the book went on, we learned more and more to get a very full explanation. I could understand why things had happened how they happened, and loved the way the Victorian values and customs mixed with the more futuristic technology.

Our heroine, Nora Dearly, is great unto herself. She's very much a modern girl held back by the restrictive mores of a time past. She values her family and friends above all else, and is willing to do anything to help them, including risking her life. She's got a sensible head on her shoulders and is quite intelligent. At the same time, she's very much like a normal seventeen year old girl. She can be a little wimpy, especially at the beginning of the book, but she grows up quickly into a strong character.

And Bram!! While at first I couldn't stop thinking of vampires, since Bram Stoker wrote Dracula and all, I got used to the name, especially because it's short for Abraham. (Which is crazy cute.) Bram is utterly adorable. Sure he's dead and all, but he's got all of the values and thoughts he had when he was living, but more life experience and a sense of mortality behind them. The chapters from his point of view were always a highlight, because, with his experiences, he sees things in a different light than the other characters. The repercussions of not following an order from his domineering captain really aren't a big deal when lives can be saved, and he remembers these things, unafraid of his punishments.

While the romance was integral and beautiful and sweet, it was not the main focus of the book, nor did it take any unnatural turns. Yes, a living girl falling in love with a dead man is a little unnatural, but when you forget that part... Dearly, Departed would have still had a lot of plot and interesting goings on without the romance, though it was still my favorite part. Nora also didn't immediately have feelings for Bram. She had to overcome her natural distrust of him and understand that the zombies are just like humans in that each is different from the other, and that took time and patience. The real theme of the book was overcoming prejudices and seeing people for who they are, not their appearance or their state of decay, and I think Lia Habel put this across very well.

One problem, though it didn't really hinder my love of the book, just something I believe could be improved upon: the narration. It was split between five characters. Each character did have an individual and identifiable voice, but the story felt choppy due to the constant change. I understood by it was done; we needed to get what was going on in other places at the same time as the main action, but I feel like it could have been done differently. If we had had just Nora and Bram's narrations, it would have flowed better. Even cutting out the captain would have helped, since I didn't see any usefulness in his point of view.

Dearly, Departed was an almost perfect read for me. It was chock full of elements I love: zombies, steampunk, romance, smart heroines, sassy best friends, and betrayals. It broke my recent streak of not crying at books, and tore out my heartstrings with great ease.

Risk a paper cut? Have I really not convinced you yet? Did you really have to read farther into this review past VICTORIAN ZOMBIES IN THE FUTURE??? Come on now. 

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