Paranormal Young Adult
Available July 24th
Received from publisher for review
THE STORY (from Goodreads)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 THOUGHTSSomething Strange and Deadly is a grimly beautiful story, a myriad of different elements making for colorful cogs in a fascinating machine, but as we read we see that the gears driving this steampunk zombie tale are not shiny and new, but rather are twisted and rusted, covered in a grime that adds a delicious edge to this debut. Ms. Dennard ensures that all the pieces of her puzzle are visible from three hundred and sixty degrees, each page we flip like the revolution of a gear that propels us forward so that we can see a new side of the characters or events, and we remain on our toes throughout wondering if what will be revealed will be dark or light in nature, or perhaps more interestingly, something in between.
Eleanor is a strong and willful heroine, stuck in a time of chaperones and marriages of financial necessity when she clearly has the mind and sensibilities of a much more modern time period. She is extraordinarily loyal, loving her brother more than life itself as she throws herself into increasingly dangerous situations in order to uncover what’s happened to him and save him from a gruesome fate at the hands of the dead. For all that she wades into the middle of deadly encounters with spirits and zombies alike, she never truly comes across as irritatingly reckless, rather her desire to be of assistance when everyone around her seeks to shield her is something we can’t help but admire. She learns quickly and applies that knowledge as she goes along, proving herself to be an asset to the Spirit Hunters rather than a hindrance, and it’s easy to smile even as untold horrors are taking place because Eleanor proves again and again that her value is not defined strictly by high society’s standards.
Ms. Dennard does a brilliant job of creating a cast of secondary characters who straddle the line between good and bad, covering each of them in a fine layer of dirt—the smudges thick in some places while other areas remain pristine to give us individuals with flaws of varying severity who keep us guessing throughout. Even the villainous necromancer, for all the devastation he/she unleashes, earns our momentary flashes of sympathy, and each chapter either adds a new layer of grit to the characters or washes a layer away, ensuring that we are never bored while in their presence. The romance with Daniel is an atypical one in young adult fiction, the only familiar element being Daniel’s sometimes brooding nature, but there’s nary an instant electric connection or all consuming love in sight, and in fact we are left with nothing more than a promise – a whisper of a relationship still so fragile merely thinking of their potential together could shatter it.
While the identity of the necromancer is fairly easy to guess early on, it doesn’t detract from the other pieces of the Something Strange and Deadly mystery, things coming together in the end to paint a full picture we only could make out a single corner of previously. Ms. Dennard impresses with her characters and world in this first installment, and the days until the release of the second book cannot pass by quickly enough.