Title: Dearly, Departed
Author: Lia Habel
Publisher: Del Rey
Format: Hardcover & eBook
Publication Date: October 18, 2011
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Lia Habel’s Dearly, Departed is the first Young Adult novel I’ve reviewed for the blog, and it is OUTSTANDING. I’m so glad I requested this book for review, because it is extremely well-written and will appeal to readers of all ages. I have to warn you that at times the zombies in this novel totally squicked me out, but HELLO, they’re ZOMBIES, so consider yourself warned. But even with the zombie gross out factor, this hardcover YA release is well worth the price, and I’m eagerly awaiting more from this author.
Set in 2195 after a new ice age has forced humans to migrate to Central and South America, the novel takes place in New Victoria. The survivors of the numerous wars and plagues decided that the Victorian Age was the golden period of humanity and have recreated that period’s class structure, dress and mores, while using technology more familiar to readers in the 21st century, such as digital cameras, an “aethernet,” cell phones, and flat screen televisions.
As the novel begins, 16 year old Nora Dearly and her best friend Pamela Roe are preparing to leave boarding school for the Christmas holidays. As Nora faces a dreary holiday placing insipid calls with her social-climbing aunt, she’s unable to shake off the sadness she feels after her father’s death a year earlier. Little does Nora realize that she’ll soon be facing down horrifying creatures intent on taking her captive.
Fortunately for Nora, 18 year old Captain Bram Griswold rescues her from the zombies, only to reveal to her that he himself is the walking undead. Bram and his company form part of a special army unit created to fight vicious zombies and prevent the spread of the Lazarus virus. Their existence depends upon her not-so-dead father’s creating a vaccine for the virus, but Dr. Dearly is missing. Bram does not plan on falling for a snooty New Victorian Neoaristocrat, but they must work together to find the missing doctor and prevent the spread of the Lazarus virus. But can there be a future for the two of them when Bram is already dead?
Dearly, Departed is narrated in the first person by several characters, although the principal narrators are Nora, Pamela, and Bram. The strength of these voices is only one of the many reasons I enjoyed this novel. First and foremost, the female characters are outstanding. Nora and Pam are constrained by society to seek husbands and thus support their families’ social ambitions, yet they prove their strength of character under extremely adverse conditions, and that strength of character is clearly evident in the narration. Each chapter clearly identifies who is speaking, but I’m not sure that’s necessary, as the characters have strong individual voices.
The zombies themselves make for charming and irrepressible secondary characters you won’t be able to forget. While their bodies won’t recover from injury and will eventually decay, they clearly retain their humanity and deserve to be treated as more than expendable weapons. Bram in particular is charming in his attempts to maintain his humanity, and you’ll easily see why Nora falls for him.
One of the reasons I find this book so refreshing is that it avoids many of the tropes we see repeatedly in Young Adult fiction. There isn’t a love triangle per se, although one of human teenage aristocrats acts as though there were. Also, the parents are not missing in action in this book. Pamela’s parents are very active in her life, even if we don’t approve of how they treat her. They attempt to constrain her actions, but when the family is threatened, they show themselves willing to listen to her. I also like how Nora’s reunion with her father is explored, since he discusses his decisions with her and is capable of admitting when he’s wrong.
I do have a few criticisms of the novel, however. My first is that I’m not really certain why Nora’s aunt appears in the book. At first she acts as Nora’s guardian, but she quickly disappears once Nora is kidnapped, and she’s only mentioned in passing once more. While her actions and relationship to Nora demonstrate what Nora can expect as a woman of her social class, it seems odd that she would play so prominent a role in the beginning, only to disappear so quickly.
My second concern is also minor. We learn through Nora that the survivors of the ice age and numerous civil wars considered the Victorian Age to be man’s Golden Age, but I had a hard time understanding why the original female survivors would allow themselves to return to a period that severely restricts their movement and limits their worth.
Despite my misgivings about the New Victorians, the world building is compelling and the writing exceptional, making this a delightful read for both the young and the not-so-young.