This book was a first in many ways for me. It was my first book in the steampunk genre, which seems to have become all the rage. It was my first zombie and my first modern horror novel. And it was the first YA book I’ve read since being a YA myself.
I hadn’t been avoiding any of these—on the contrary: seeing review after review by my Goodreads friends has had me adding book after book that I would not normally have read or sought out. One of the reasons I’m making a point of telling you all this though is because unlike many readers who will read this review and/or the book itself, I don’t have much to compare it to—frankly, I have nothing to compare it to! But here goes …
Summary. Dearly, Departed is set in 2195 and centers around the people of New Victoria and the Punks. While they share ancestors, the two groups have been in a war with one another for generations, though at this point it’s not all-out and amounts to border skirmishes, as well as propaganda-driven ignorance and misinformation about one another.
Nora Dearly, a young woman in New Victoria, is still mourning the loss of her father a year ago. She’s home from boarding school and is greeted by the distressing news that her aunt has wasted away their fortune and one of them will have to marry advantageously to refill the family coffers. All of this gets shoved to the back of her mind though, when Nora’s life takes a dramatic turn.
Home alone one night, she is attacked by a group of flesh-eating, decomposing, and mindless zombies. Trying to fight them off, she is saved just in time by a team of soldiers—also zombies, but turns out they are the good guys.
What follows is one revelation and danger after another. She learns that being “dead” doesn’t mean what she thought it did, befriends zombies, and falls into requited love with one of them, Bram. All around her, various existential battles are being fought: Punks versus New Victorians, the living versus the dead, the good guys versus the bad ones.
Reaction. Overall, I enjoyed the book and found the middle portion very engaging. The beginning and end were fine while I was reading them, but easy to lose interest in between reads. There were several funny lines and great exchanges. I loved most all the characters and found Nora to be a surprisingly likable heroine (I have problems with a lot of the PNR ones); she also showed no signs of having been lobotomized, but instead acknowledged risks while also not freaking out at every little thing. I loved the secondary characters: they were very funny, the back-and-forth between them was entertaining, and they were well-defined; by the end, I liked some of them as much as I did the main ones
The author tries to pack a lot into one book and that was the book’s main failure in my mind. There are too many storylines being explored and too many different factions, which was a shame because on their own I found most all of them interesting. The final section feels extremely rushed and includes a huge and non-subtle information dump explaining everything.
One of the things that took a little getting used to was that the story is told in first person … from five different people’s POVs. By far, Nora and Bram get the most narration time, but we also spend significant time with the other three characters. At least the transitions were clear though, with the narrating character’s name at the beginning of every chapter. The switch was annoying when it would happen just as I was really getting into a POV. It wasn’t a deal-breaker though and I enjoyed Bram’s and Nora’s.
I have learned by now that many fantasy/paranormal romance readers have certain pet peeves, a certain type of ending being one of them (Chicagoland Vampires anyone?), so I want to include this warning: while there is not a dramatic cliffhanger like that, the ending and epilogue are most definitely a setup for the next book, with a few plotlines left dangling.
Steampunk and Zombies and YA, Oh My! Despite the issues I had with the author biting off more than she could chew, I thought this was a good introduction to these genres. It definitely piqued my interest and makes me want to move these books higher in my TBR list. I found Habel’s creation interesting and there’s no doubt she has a good imagination—I loved the Punk vs. New Victorian aspect and wanted that to be further explored.
While I haven’t read steampunk or zombies before, I love the science fiction classics, so I am familiar with world-building and etc. Though I never felt like I was back in the “regular” world, I did think that the integration was not consistent and at times confusing. Some examples are how not all the zombies were really zombie-ish (right? not an expert here), the Victorian-ness at times felt forced, and I often completely forget about this supposedly huge and defining division between the two societies.
Bottom Line. At the end of the day, I enjoyed the book and would recommend it. Were there problems? Yes, most definitely. But the romance between Nora and Bram was sweet, the secondary characters were wonderful, and the novel has an interesting storyline … well, several, which was one of the problems, but regardless: I did like Dearly, Departed. Though I will not be rushing out to buy the second book when it comes out, I am curious about what happens next in this world Habel has created.
Two of My Favorite Quotes:
“Well, I have things I need, too. I instinctively crave fluids, because I’m drying out. I crave protein because I’m damaging my body’s tissues every time I move, even though I can’t use that protein to rebuild them anymore. And the prions living in my brain crave new hosts and tell my synapses to make me a little nippy. In short, I’m newly rewired with a burning desire for a nice, warm body. You know, like every other teenage boy.”
She reached out her hand and stroked a finger along the edge of my captain’s bars. Then, in a sudden fit of propriety, she yanked her hand back as if out of an open flame and hid it beneath her blanket. “Wow.”
I vowed that I was never taking the uniform off, ever.
I bent my head, all proper-like. “I’ll wait for you in the courtyard.”
Samedi eyed me on the way out. “Oh, you scoundrel. That’s dirty pool.”
I jutted a finger at him. “You just wish you had one.”
“I don’t need one!” he shot back. “I have maturity, and strength of personality! And … and the ability to hide my own head in glove compartments and lockers to see if she’s cheating on me!”
Beryl handed him a file on her way past. “You ever try that again, I’m going to drop-kick you into the next country.”