Review: Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel

Publication Date: October 18th, 2011
Random House Publishing Group
Format: Hardcover, 480 pages
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Love can never die.

Love conquers all, so they say. But can Cupid’s arrow pierce the hearts of the living and the dead—or rather, the undead? Can a proper young Victorian lady find true love in the arms of a dashing zombie?
The year is 2195. The place is New Victoria—a high-tech nation modeled on the manners, mores, and fashions of an antique era. A teenager in high society, Nora Dearly is far more interested in military history and her country’s political unrest than in tea parties and debutante balls. But after her beloved parents die, Nora is left at the mercy of her domineering aunt, a social-climbing spendthrift who has squandered the family fortune and now plans to marry her niece off for money. For Nora, no fate could be more horrible—until she’s nearly kidnapped by an army of walking corpses.
But fate is just getting started with Nora. Catapulted from her world of drawing-room civility, she’s suddenly gunning down ravenous zombies alongside mysterious black-clad commandos and confronting “The Laz,” a fatal virus that raises the dead—and hell along with them. Hardly ideal circumstances. Then Nora meets Bram Griswold, a young soldier who is brave, handsome, noble . . . and dead. But as is the case with the rest of his special undead unit, luck and modern science have enabled Bram to hold on to his mind, his manners, and his body parts. And when his bond of trust with Nora turns to tenderness, there’s no turning back. Eventually, they know, the disease will win, separating the star-crossed lovers forever. But until then, beating or not, their hearts will have what they desire.
In Dearly, Departed, romance meets walking-dead thriller, spawning a madly imaginative novel of rip-roaring adventure, spine-tingling suspense, and macabre comedy that forever redefines the concept of undying love.

I’ve only managed to read one steampunk book from cover to cover. It’s a genre that I haven’t been able to acquire a taste for. Zombie books, however, is a different matter altogether. I can read those in one sitting – no problem. Dearly, Departed combined steampunk and the horrors of living alongside the undead, so this steampunk book should’ve been much easier to devour. In fact, I was counting on the zombie element to help me get through it. I did finish the book but unfortunately, it didn’t give me the heart-thumping suspense that I look forward to when I read zombie books and did very little to whet my appetite to read more steampunk books.

Immerse yourself in a world where technologies mesh with Victorian civility and tradition. Where gentlemen wore cravats and ladies wore bustled gowns and ride carriages with monitors mounted in the passenger box. Digidiaries were used instead of moleskin for journals and stylus instead of quill pens. The year was 2195; Nora Dearly was just coming out of mourning for her father who died a year ago. Little did she know, that she was about to become a pawn in a struggle for power and revenge between two opposing factions who uses the undead for their own selfish agenda.

The problem with some of the dystopian novels I’ve read as of yet was the lack of explanation for the world’s demise. Some open with the world changed and I’m to accept that world simply ended. Well, that’s not going to work for me. I don’t care if it calls for pages upon pages of narratives, Lia Habel did a fantastic job with her accounts of how the world in New Victoria came to be. I didn’t battle with boredom as I read about the world’s eventual demise. She also took the time to explain how the world reverted back to the Victorian ways of living. I’ve always been a bit gun shy when it comes to scientific explanations but the way Ms. Habel explained how the virus function didn’t sound like wah-wah-wah-wah, to me. It was easy to follow. The point of this paragraph is that the author took the time to explain things and at a hefty 470+ pages, I didn’t expect any less.

Dearly, Departed also has one of the most detailed settings I’ve ever read. Holograms appear in places amidst the prevailing desolate landscape. I am not only amazed with the world building but also with the accurate Victorian clothing and artifacts. Lia Habel’s writing flow smoothly that I was able to identify with the characters quite easily. With that being said, one of the problems I had with this book is the five-person POV. As much as I love details, having all these people telling their stories made for some stilted story-telling. I resisted the urge to bypass everybody else’s POV and go right to Nora’s and Bram’s.

I’ve proclaimed my adoration for zombie books time and time again and have amassed quite a collection (mostly unread). In this novel, there are two types of zombies: the Grays and the ‘awake/aware’ zombies. The latter, very much like the Grays, are dead but where the Grays only crave for living flesh and can only focus on the hunger, the other kind of zombies do not have the same urges. They speak, they eat human food (tofu!) and they feel. My major issue with this book is just that. Aside from body parts and, or chunks of flesh that were missing, Bram’s cohorts were very much like humans. I felt that this took a lot from the zombie element that I was dying to read about. I hate comparing books but Isaac Marion’s Warm Bodies version of ‘aware’ undead didn’t feel like they were humans trying to be zombies. They were zombies trying to be humans. Does that make sense?

Anyway, I still enjoyed this book – even if the ending felt like the author was forcing a conflict that could make way for a possible sequel. The romance was sweet and some parts me choke up (I’m a sap, I know!). I loved Nora’s character – fiercely independent and loyal to her friends. A couple of antagonists whose characters were, in my opinion, fillers – Michael and Vespertine (really, what was the point of putting these two in?). The characters that made this doubly enjoyable were Sam and Dr. Chase. I found them funny and sweet.

Steampunk and zombies. Someday, I’ll get used to this. If there is to be a sequel, I’m picking it up.

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