Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Book Review: Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel

Pros: light romance, interesting use of zombies

Cons: tries to be all genres, slow paced

For Parents: some violence

Nora Dearly is kidnapped the day after she arrives home from school for the holidays and learns that her deceased father was killed by a plague that reanimates the dead, leaving some of them able to think and act like living humans.  She slowly falls in love with one of the soldiers who brought her to the military camp in order to protect her from those who would do her harm.

This book tries to be several genres, not really excelling at any of them.  It takes place in 2195 and uses some advanced technology (like tablets for writing, email and watching TV), but not much else.  I was often at a loss as to what tech was supposed to be advanced and what was lost and not recovered after the war.  The world has greatly changed due to global warming and a nuclear war, making it somewhat post-apocalyptic.  But again, society has rebuilt enough that it didn't have a post-apocalyptic feel to it.  The Americans who pushed out the Central and South Americans and formed New Victoria, live an idealized Victorian lifestyle, with high morals and a strict social hierarchy.  Their enemies, the 'Punks' have steam powered derigibals, making it steampunk.  But it was a bit confusing which, if any, side the author was praising.  At times she showed the follies of the New Victorians, at others they were definitely more civilized than the punks.  Then there are the zombies and the plague that created them, making it horror, and a popular horror trope at that.  While there were two types of zombies - those that reanimated with memories and those that came back as ravening monsters - the zombies were only really scary at the end of the book when the plague spread.  Finally, let's not forget the romantic plot line between Nora and Bram.  This developed slowly, and naturally, but the complications of dating a zombie were never properly faced (nor was Bram's impending expiry date).

I found the pacing slow and while the ideas were interesting, enjoyed the action surrounding Pamela's storyline more than the romance and revelations surrounding Nora. 

I also found myself confused by the constantly changing viewpoint for the first person narrative.  The author made it clear who was speaking, but I fell into the habit of assuming it was Nora's POV and had to constantly correct myself.  Captain Wolfe's POV scenes seemed superfluous, and while I understood wanting to show both Bram and Nora's thoughts via POV, there were times when the POV changed when it didn't seem necessary.

I know teen books need to get the adults out of the way in order to give the teen protagonists a chance to shine, but that doesn't mean all the adults need to be morons.  Nora's aunt is a real piece of work, and Pamela's parents are surprisingly clueless and made to look evil in some ways, even though they're honestly trying to do what's best for their daughter.

I can understand why this is popular, but wouldn't recommend it as a first foray into YA lit.

***Spoilers ***

There seemed to be a bizarre anti-live male sentiment running through the book.  Captain Wolfe, Isambard, Doctor Elpinoy, Averne and Michael Allister all started out as, or became, cretinous characters.  Isambard only becomes a better 'man' once he dies and is reborn as a zombie.  The dead men on the other hand, Dr. Dearly, Bram, Tom, Renfield, etc. are all likable, if not perfect characters.

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