Thursday, May 9, 2013

Something Strange and Deadly Book Review

Author: Susan Dennard. Release date: 2012. Publisher: HarperTeen. ISBN: 9780062083265.

Annotation: After her brother goes missing and the Dead start rising in Philadelphia, sixteen-year-old Eleanor Fitt turns to a team of Spirit-Hunters to help save her brother who, she fears, is being held captive by the necromancer that is raising the Dead.   

Personal thoughts: I had a difficult time deciding whether I liked this novel or not. It was a bit schizophrenic for me, almost as if the author wanted the story to be many different things that there wasn’t one thing that was done really superbly. The zombie element kind of came and went in importance, Eleanor’s plight to find a good marriage wasn’t really executed fully, and the support characters weren’t as developed as they could have been. I think the author definitely has the makings for a good series, but some editing and focusing of where the story is going and what the main themes are would help the reader to stay more engaged.

Plot summary: After her father’s death several years earlier, sixteen-year-old Eleanor Fitt, her brother, Elijah, and their mother were left with next to nothing. Eleanor knows that it is up to her to improve their fortunes by marrying well, something her mother reminds her of daily. After her brother mysteriously disappears, however, and the Dead begin to rise in her hometown of Philadelphia, Eleanor has a lot more than marriage to a wealthy bachelor on her mind. It seems that a necromancer is operating in the city, raising the Dead to do his bidding. Sons of well-to-do families in Philadelphia society are being murdered and Eleanor fears that Elijah, who she believes is being held captive by the necromancer, might be next. To help save her brother, Eleanor turns to a team of Spirit-Hunters operating out of a lab out of Philadelphia’s Centennial Exhibition. The Spirit-Hunters, consisting of a man named Joseph who can sense the supernatural, a handsome scientist named Daniel, and a young but fierce Chinese woman named Jie, are on the hunt for the necromancer themselves. Can Eleanor and the Spirit-Hunters save Elijah and end the reign of the necromancer and his army of the Dead before it’s too late?

Review: Part historical fiction, part zombie thriller, Something Strange and Deadly, the first installment in a series for teens by debut author Susan Dennard, is a decent selection for readers who like supernatural novels with a bit of a twist. Set in 1876 Philadelphia, much of the story focuses on the plight of leading lady, sixteen-year-old Eleanor Fitt, in securing a marriage to save her family’s hemorrhaging finances. The rest of the novel deals with the supernatural elements, like zombies, ghosts and necromancers and the mystery surrounding exactly what is causing the Dead to rise. While many will enjoy this combination of history, mystery and horror, readers who want something that is only historical fiction or just about zombies and the supernatural might find themselves disappointed that the novel solidly identifies itself in one genre. Not enough focus is given to any element in the story to make it really appealing to fans of a specific type of book, so only readers who are interested in a combination of themes will enjoy reading the novel. Eleanor is a likable enough protagonist, but not enough depth is given to the support characters to really engage the reader in her interactions with them. A small romance does blossom, but not really in any way that feels organic. The story does have some promise, however, so hopefully the author can strengthen the characters and plot in the next installment, A Darkness Strange and Lovely, set to be released July 23, 2013.

Genre:  Historical Fiction/Science-Fiction

Reading level: Grade 8+

Similar titles: Magic Most Foul series by Leanna Renee Hieber, Gone With the Respiration series by Lia Habel, Wrapped by Jennifer Bradbury.  

Themes:  Zombies, necromancers, dark magic, ghosts, séances, spirits, Philadelphia, historical fiction, mystery, duty, marriage, murder.

Awards/Reviews:  Positive review from Kirkus, School Library Journal, Publishers Weekly and VOYA.   

Series Information: First installment in Something Strange and Deadly series. Second installment, A Darkness Strange and Lovely, set to be released July 23, 2013.

Discussion questions:

-         Do you think Eleanor’s mom truly cares about her daughter’s well-being, or is she only focused on improving the family finances? Why?

-          Why do you think Eleanor’s father passed away? How did his death impact the Fitts?

-        Do you think Clarence had feelings for Eleanor? Why or why not?

-         Who was your favorite character in the novel? Why?

-        The Centennial International Exhibition of 1876 actually took place in Philadelphia. Research the Exhibition. Did the novel do a good job of describing it? What was the importance of the Exhibition in the story?

-         Were you surprised to learn the identity of the necromancer? Why or why not?

-        What would you like to see happen in the sequel, A Darkness Strange and Lovely?

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