Something Strange and Deadly (Something Strange and Deadly #1) by Susan Dennard, published by in.
There’s something strange and deadly loose in Philadelphia…
Eleanor Fitt has a lot to worry about. Her brother has gone missing, her family as fallen on hard times, and her mother is determined to marry her off to any rich young man who walkers 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 the maddeningly stubborn yet handsome Daniel, the situation becomes dire. An now, not only is her reputation on the line, but her very life may hang in the balance. (Goodreads)
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My rating: 4/5.
I genuinely liked this book. It was fresh, innovative and a very fast read.
I like that the heroine, Eleanor Fitt, isn’t all strong and perfect, but is in fact quite scared and average (though not entirely ordinary, as we find out). She is, however, determined to find and help her brother, and doesn’t really care who she has to associate with to achieve her goal. I appreciated how she differed from the prescribed stereotypical action heroine and how she used her own brain and abilities.
I loved the historical setting. I usually enjoy epic fantasy worlds if they’re well-constructed, and rarely read historical novels, but this trip into the past combined both in a thoroughly clever manner! I was a bit afraid of the zombie part when I read the synopsis and some reviews, but fortunately, Dennard chose to keep things tasteful enough (I sometimes think that vampire-human love stories should be outlawed if I think about them too much – all that centuries-old flesh gives me the creeps).
Frankly, authors who want to portray independent heroines in a historical setting never have an easy job – in the past, women were usually much worse off than we are today, and it’s hard to write a believable rebellious female character in a decidedly patriarchal society. Dennard managed that quite well, I think. Eleanor is still bound by the constrictions and rules of her time and society, but cleverly maneuvers around them to get what she wants.
The other characters were lovely, as well. I appreciate the fact that this is a YA fantasy novel that doesn’t feature a love triangle! Such series are really uncommon these days, it seems. :) Daniel is great, a totally brilliant, sweet inventor with a bitter past; Jie is an unusual firecracker, and Eleanor’s “friends” from the upper echelons of the Philadelphia society are just fleshed out enough to be completely obnoxious, but they never steal the spotlight.
The one serious issue I had with the book was its cover – this is something that the review at Stories & Sweeties pointed out and I agree completely. While the cover is undoubtedly gorgeous and the designer did a great job, the girl in the picture isn’t really Eleanor. Eleanor has a fondness for sweets and cakes and absolutely loathes wearing corsets, which pinch her mercilessly. She also comes from a family who has fallen on bad times and would not have been able to afford such a fine dress. I feel like the sales people thought: “This book will never sell if we put a plump, shabbily dressed girl on the cover,” and just changed her, like this is the only way to make a cover work… It might not seem like a big deal, but I think that the one well-rounded heroine in the mass of wisp-like waifs should really be given a chance to shine in her own right. Eleanor is by no means fat or unhealthy – she’s natural and I see absolutely no need to change her.
The final twist had me thinking: “You can’t end the book here!”, and then I proceeded to curse a bit, but fortunately, books 2 and 3 are already out and I can get my fix of Miss Fitt and her comrades soon enough. I’ve read nothing but rave reviews about both sequels, so I hope I’m not getting too worked up about them, but I have faith that such a nice beginning can only have an even better ending.
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I’d love to hear your thoughts – and read your review of Something Strange and Deadly, if you’ve written it for your blog!