Title: Something Strange and Deadly #1 by Susan Dennard
Page count: 371
Published on: July 24th, 2012
Goodreads rating: 3.91
Buy via: Amazon│Barnes & Noble
Summary: The year is 1876, and there’s something strange and deadly loose in Philadelphia. Eleanor Fitt has a lot to worry about. Her brother has gone missing, her family has fallen on hard times, and her mother is determined to marry her off to any rich young man who walks 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 their maddeningly stubborn yet handsome inventor, Daniel, the situation becomes dire. And now, not only is her reputation on the line, but her very life may hang in the balance.
I remember seeing the cover and premise for Something Strange and Deadly a while back and as a zombie fan, and as someone who loves period pieces, I squealed with glee, because I knew this was going to be a book I could count on loving. But even I, as someone who was looking forward to this book, had no idea what an absolute delight I was in for. You know how when you start a book, and you’ve barely made a dent in it, but somehow already you just know that it’s going to be one of those special ones that you’ll be thinking about long after you finish? This is one of those books for me.
So, why do I love it so much? Why should you go out and pick it up right now?
Let’s break it down!
One thing that makes this such a strong book is the leading lady, Miss Eleanor Fitt. Okay bare with me because I can go on forever why she stands out in a galaxy of YA fictional heroines. Eleanor is spunky, courageous, and determined in a way that makes it impossible not to fall in love with her. These qualities that Eleanor posses are especially amazing as the time period the story takes place in doesn’t allow a lot of room for women to be capable and independent. Yet, Eleanor is all of these things, and more. The brilliant thing here is that an author with less talent could have used these characteristics as a way to make Eleanor perfect. Instead, these qualities are not used as a way to make her without flaws, but instead make her into a living, breathing, flesh and blood character. For example, Eleanor’s relentless nature also makes her stubborn, sometimes reckless, and leads her on a path that has severe consequences. She is real. She is human. This is how you do characterization.
Then there’s Daniel. He is an impassioned, dedicated inventor with a troubled past. He might be Eleanor’s love interest but that’s just a part of who he is, and not all he is. He’s a layered and interesting character in his own right, and from the moment I first saw him, I was truly captivated. I find Daniel to be a breath of fresh air compared to a lot of male characters in YA fiction and he is so very wonderful.
It’s already a huge achievement to have two extremely well-written leading characters but Something Strange and Deadly offers you a whole cast of complex and fascinating characters -from Jie, to Joseph, to Clarence to Elijah- that all play a significant part in the overall story.
I have to say that pace of the story is beyond incredible, and the plot moves along at the perfect pace. In the beginning, there is no shortage of world-building as well as character-building here, and there is plenty of action from the start that makes it impossible to put down. The writing is utterly charming and I found myself reading many of the lines out loud as I read, because I just enjoyed the writing that much.
Oh, and the overall plot? It’s a good one. Very good. The book already has all the right elements to make it a winner, but then Susan goes ahead and ties everything together in such an ingenious way. One of my favorite things in the world is to see a story come together and when you look back and see how all the puzzle pieces just fit together to add up to the whole picture, and this book just nails it.
Any good tale has a world that feels complex and fleshed out. However, to be a truly outstanding read, the author needs to be able to make the reader feel like they are actually being transported to another world where the characters come to life in their head. Susan has accomplished this and more. Not only does she build a world that’s rich, and representative of the time period, but one that still feels unique and belongs to this book alone. The atmosphere is a magnificent blend of gloom and lightness. For horror lovers, there’s zombies, and for history buffs there’s a lot for period elements for you to revel in. Let’s not forget all the steampunk goodness. There is something for everyone here.
I’d like to note that if zombies aren’t your thing, don’t let that deter you from trying out this book. They do have a presence but this is an intelligent story, that’s very much driven by the characters, and I think if you tried it, you might even find the zombies add a fun and entertaining element.
The love story between Eleanor and Daniel is pure and utter gold.They are one of the finest examples of a what a genuine, rootable relationship should be in YA fiction. They don't overpower the story, and yet the story wouldn't be the same without them. Susan lets these two characters grow together organically, and everytime they come together, there is meaning, and there is purpose. These are not just two characters circling around each other aimlessly, while the reader is left to wonder why it is exactly they like even each other. With Eleanor and Daniel, the reader gets to watch their relationship evolve naturally and carefully. They earn the reader's affection. You get to witness how they begin to truly care about each other, little by little, while also having their individuality remain intact. I admit, where things left off between them in this book, broke my heart a little, but I found it to be refreshing and realistic, and I have to praise Susan for taking it in that direction. The best love stories deeply satisfy you, but leave you wanting more. Yet at the same time, they also leave you with a hope that the characters will be able to find happiness with each other.
Now let's sum it up!
The most outstanding thing about this book and shows of scope of Susan's talents is how she was able to masterfully weave so many elements together to create an unforgettable story that gives you everything you can possibly want in a book, and more. Not only does she give you extraordinary characters, a smart romance, and impressive world-building, but on top of that, there's a clever plot that connects everything together and leaves you extremely satisfied as a reader, but eager for see where the story is going to take you next. This is one debut you don’t want to miss out on!