Saturday, January 21, 2012

Dearly, Departed Book Review

 Author: Lia Habel. Release date: 2011. Publisher:  Del Rey. ISBN: 9780345523318.
Annotation: In 2195, orphan Nora Dearly lives with her strict aunt in New Victoria where the only aspiration she’s allowed is to marry a rich gentleman who can replace the money her aunt has squandered since her father’s death. When a zombies come knocking on Nora’s door, however, she abandons her fancy frocks for a gun and moves to Z Base, where intelligent zombie soldiers are training to save the world from a zombie apocalypse.    
Personal thoughts:  I was really excited to read this novel when I first heard about it. I was familiar with the steampunk concept, but had never read a novel that incorporated the idea before. I also love zombies, so I was ready to really enjoy Dearly, Departed. Unfortunately, things didn’t go quite so well as I’d hoped. I really liked Lia Habel’s descriptions of New London and the conflict between the New Victorians and the Punks. As the novel progressed, however, I got more and more confused. The changing narration was really difficult for me to get used to, even though I’ve read many novels with rotating narrators, and I felt like the whole New Victorian concept got sloughed off when the zombies entered the story. I think the author had some really great ideas, but fell victim to something I can completely understand, trying to do too much. Even though I wasn’t a huge fan of this novel, I will still pick up the sequel when it’s released later this year. I really think the potential is there, and I hope that the second installment in the series will be what I was looking for in the first.
Plot summary: The year is 2195 and, following the apocalyptic downfall of society in the early 2000’s, America’s population has migrated to the equatorial countries and set up New Victoria: a nation modeled after the sensibilities of the Victorian age but with high-tech innovations like cell phones and electric carriages. Sixteen-year-old Nora Dearly lives with her strict aunt in the years following her parents’ deaths. Nora has a high social standing, since her father was a brilliant scientist, and attends a fancy school with her best friend, Pamela, whose place in society is not so high. The girls feel pressured to make good marriages, especially Nora after she learns that her aunt has squandered her father’s fortune. Everything changes one evening, however, when Nora is viciously attacked by a pack of zombies, only to find herself rescued by another pack and whisked away to a mysterious army outpost known as Z Base. Confused and scared, Nora learns that a zombie plague has slowly been creeping its way up to New Victoria and is being kept at bay by an army of intelligent undead soldiers. It seems that the virus, known as the Lazarus, only makes some of the infected insane and hungry for flesh upon reanimation, others retain their memories and personalities. One of these soldiers, Bram Griswold, is brave and handsome, and explains to Nora about her and her father’s role in protecting the world from a zombie apocalypse. Will Nora be able to keep her wits about her as she struggles to find out the truth behind the Lazarus all while falling more and more for Bram?
Review:  Readers unfamiliar with the term “steampunk” will become more than familiar with the concept of high-tech blended with antiquity in Lia Habel’s debut novel, Dearly, Departed. The author describes herself as a fan of both zombies and the Victorian-era, and that is exactly the plot she has created in her new Gone with the Respiration series. The setting of the novel is, arguably, one of if not the most interesting aspects of the story. The first chapters of the book describe exactly how the world of New Victoria came to be, and establishing the “civil war” that permeates the story between the New Victorians and the Punks, a separate nation that does not agree with the strict rules and oppression in New Victoria. As the novel progresses, however, things begin to get a little muddled. The narration changes from chapter to chapter, rotating between five characters, and this often gets more than a little confusing. The zombie aspect of the story takes over fairly early on as well, leaving the reader wondering what happened to the Lia Habel’s delightful steampunk environment. It almost seems like the author tried to include too many ideas in the novel, creating something that becomes too complicated and unsure of itself. While there are certainly things to be enjoyed in Dearly, Departed, the story will, unfortunately, be likely to confuse many readers. Hopefully the second novel, Dearly, Beloved, can correct some of these problems upon its release in September of 2012.  
Genre: Science-Fiction/Steampunk
Reading level: Grade 8+
Similar titles: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith, Megan Berry series by Stacey Jay, Forest of Hands and Teeth series by Carrie Ryan, I Kissed a Zombie, and I liked It by Adam Selzer. The Strange Case of Finley Jayne (Steampunk Chronicles) by Kady Cross.  
Themes:  Steampunk, Victorian era, zombies, post-apocalyptic, dystopian, war, class warfare.
Awards/Reviews:  Positive reviews on  
Series Information: First installment in Gone With the Respiration series. Second book, Dearly, Beloved set to be released in September 2012.
Discussion questions: 
-   Were you familiar with the steampunk concept before reading this novel? Explain what it means to you.
-   If you were alive in Nora’s world, would you want to be a New Victorian or a Punk? Why?
-    Why do you think the Lazarus made some zombies insane and some not? 
-    Who was your favorite character in the novel? Why?
-    What would you like to see happen in the sequel?  

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