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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Review: Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel

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.

Dearly, Departed is a novel about zombies in a post-apocalyptic world resembling Victorian London with steampunk tendencies. Which explains why I was disoriented when I first started reading. It was a bit like the novel was struggling to find it's identity and I worried that Habel wouldn't succeed in tying the multiple personalities of Dearly, Departed together. But then the characters grew on me, the Victorian manners, dress, and customs started to feel normal, and the sudden appearance of high-tech gadgets stopped being quite so surprising... then I started to feel at home in the curious world Habel had created.

I think it was Bram Griswold, one of the narrators and Nora's love interest, that kept me reading even when I was feeling overwhelmed at the start of the novel. I really enjoyed his character's personality and attitude. I actually felt like I had a better understanding of Bram than Nora at some points... and I definitely understood why Nora found herself falling for him. Despite being one of the living dead, Bram is a complete gentleman.

Along with Nora and Bram, Pamela, Nora's best friend, also narrates sections of Dearly, Beloved. I'll admit that I wasn't a huge fan of Pamela at first, but she quickly grew on me. At the beginning of the story, when the girls are leaving boarding school for home, Pamela seems a bit silly, but, as soon as things get tough, her claws come out. I'm very interested to see what Pamela accomplishes in the next novel, since information regarding "The Laz" is now public knowledge...  she definitely isn't one to lay around idly when so much change is occurring. 

It will be interesting to see how Habel decides to continue Nora's story... and whether Bram and Nora's story will have a happy ending. At this point, I'm not seeing how it would be possible, but I have to hope Habel has a few tricks up her sleeve!

Del Rey, October 2011, Hardcover, ISBN: 9780345523310, 470 pages.


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