Friday, December 23, 2011

Review: Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel


Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel

Series: Gone With The Respiration (#1)
Pages: 451
Publisher: Doubleday
Published: December 1st, 2011
IBSN: 9780857530004

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.

Nora's always been too rebellious for neo-Victorian etiquette, but her father also supported her insubordinate nature. At least, before he died. Left in the care of her overbearing aunt, she can't imagine life getting any worse, until she's abducted by a group of people with sickly skin and crooked gaits claiming to know things about her father she never did.

Dearly, Departed featured an initially daunting genre mashup: a steampunk/dystopia/paranormal/romance. The premise is of survivors of a detrimental ice age reverting to Victorian customs in an effort to resuscitate the beauty of the world. It felt rather haphazard, as though the author liked all of the genres but couldn't choose which one to write first.

The tangled mess of genres made the story much busier than it needed to be. For instance, the entire dystopia theme seemed of little consequence. Rather than just setting it in a steampunk Victorian era, it was set in a future modeled after the Victorian era. The former would have even been more believable and less of a stumbling stock for critical readers. Occam's Razor, the simplest way is usually the best way.

The language wasn't consistently setting-appropriate either. In this futuristic world, little memory of our current popular culture has survived. Nora has a vague idea of what vampires are, but none about zombies. But by the end of the story she's making self-aware jokes about the unexpected humanity of these zombies without the context of background knowledge. I remember a Spiderman reference, "my bull-senses are tingling", that she couldn't possibly know. Suspension of disbelief already needed to be high, and these inconsistencies certainly didn't help.

Otherwise, though, the Victorian language and customs seemed well-researched, although not as well portrayed in some places than others. I gathered from the author photo that Habel has a passion for the steampunk, and while it showed, I figured it would translate into a much more fleshed out element of it.

The story was told through the perspective of five different characters, to effectively give a thorough look at the many sides of the plot, though only our two leads were smoothly developed. The inclusion of the other three minor characters' narratives are vital to the plot, and as vital characters, I was disappointed by how unbalanced the effort fleshing them and the leads out was.

Aside, though, Dearly, Departed was very much enjoyable. The romance, if hasty and confusing (he's an animated corpse!), had believable chemistry and the pair were created likable and sympathetic enough to predispose the reader to support it. The plot had unexpected twists and was mostly fast-paced, making maintaining interest easy.

Lia Habel's debut, though a little ambitious and busy in setting, will appeal to older readers of YA. A fun and entertaining story, but intermittent with darker and more emotional moments than your average dystopia/paranormal.