Tag Archives: Victorian era

Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel (4****/5)

CAN YOU TELL HE'S DEAD NO I DON'T THINK SO HE'S LOOKING GREAT FOR A CORPSE

This is a pacy, bloodthirsty, hugely entertaining teen zombie novel with an unconventional but tender love story at its heart. From the ruins of a cataclysmic ice-age a new society has emerged, based on Victorian customs. Nora Dearly, a feisty teenage girl and apparent orphan, leaves her exclusive boarding school for the holidays to return home – only to be dragged into the night by the living dead. Luckily for her, this particular crack unit of zombies are good guys – sent to protect her from the real nasties roaming the countryside and zeroing in on major cities to swell their ranks. Nora must find a way to defeat the evil undead with help from Bram, a noble, sweet and surprisingly hot zombie boy for whom she starts to fall…

For all it’s riddled with issues, Dearly, Departed is a really fun read that’s so over the top it’s actually mesmerising – given half a chance it carries you with it all the way through a crazy mess of plot, rotting corpses, zombie street battles and undead romance. It’s like this book was written with a checklist in mind – what’s hot right now in SFF/YA lit? Let’s see!

  • Zombies – CHECK! with a whole new spin on this which was REALLY appreciated
  • Forbidden romance – CHECK! with bits falling off (I loved Bram, I couldn’t even hate him for the blatant name thing, he’s such a sweetheart)
  • Dystopia – CHECK! only it was literally overkill to have so much apocalypse infodumped on us. Utterly crazy.
  • Steampunk – CHECK! except not the steampunk of the Soulless books or anything, it’s more faux-Victoriana, which was really awkward in most places because it’s been shoe-horned in and doesn’t feel right at all. Except I didn’t mind it past the first few chapters. It stops grating once you just assume it’s a technologically advanced Victorian age. There’s a wonderful idea about the Punks and their tech however, which I’d love to read more of in any future books.
So, yes, it’s an attention-grabbing conglomeration of ideas, you know?

Fans of dystopias and zombies will get more of a kick out of this than romance fans – and people who enjoy well-rendered characters who are willing to get stuck in and be pro-active will enjoy this too. It’s all lampshaded of course, with every time a girl-character acts in a way which does not suit her upbringing everyone notices it and points it out. The romance feels a bit unconvincing but I loved Bram and Nora was far from annoying so, again, I didn’t mind. Once things had clicked it felt much more believable.

It’s not structured very well, however; the viewpoints are a mess and only partially feel like they’re distinct voices, but I had so much fun reading this that I didn’t really care – I can totally understand why people didn’t get into or didn’t like this book, because you need to suspend disbelief from a very high place to even get into the setting of Dearly, Departed, let alone the basic premise. It was such tremendous fun and completely different in tone and style and painted in such vivid colours that I couldn’t help but enjoy it. Seriously. Against my better judgement and everything.

It’s the most emphatically emphatic dystopian teen zombie romance you’ll ever see, and worth reading if you feel like going for an enjoyably deranged but hugely entertaining book. And yes, the horror elements were fun too. Strongly recommended if you like your YA to have a bit of backbone, decaying romance and a strong edge of dark humour to it. Anyone who liked it and wants MOAR! zombie love – Warm Bodies is your next port of call. Doesn’t have anywhere near the structural problems or the odd dialogue that DD does, and as a horror it’s a much stronger piece of work.

It isn’t, however, as much of a weird-ass dystopian teen zombie romance. With airships. Dearly, Departed has that down.

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Deanna Raybourn’s Lady Julia Grey Mysteries

I was in a charity shop a few months ago when a set of book covers leapt from the shelf and viciously attacked my person.

Well, in a nice way.

It was the most random book purchase I’ve made in months. Rarely do I buy a book that someone hasn’t recommended specifically, or that I’ve seen reviewed, so buying a book just because the cover looked cool felt all risqué and flying-by-the-seat-of-my-pants and all that. It was a risk. Three books were there and I bought just the first, in case it turned out awful. I regretted that; the next two books were difficult to get hold of in the right editions, but I’m so glad I did!

The book was Silent in the Grave by Deanna Raybourn and good heavens did I devour it. It might as well have come with a knife and fork and some ketchup, that was how fast it went. Raybourn has an excellent way with opening lines (I’d like to leave those for future readers to discover) and although certain aspects of the book felt too modern to fit properly into a Victorian setting, it was a vastly entertaining read that included great characters, wonderful writing and a murder mystery that I guessed ahead of time, but in doing so didn’t ruin my enjoyment of the book in the least. Lady Julia Grey – the protagonist – develops wonderfully as the murder of her husband is suspected and then investigated by herself and the dark, mysterious Nicholas Brisbane; she goes from a mousey, elegant, typical Victorian ideal of a wife to someone who is unafraid to show her intelligence and faces up to the rather grim task at hand with great courage. Her family is a madcap lot that offer some entertaining asides (Perdita, her sister, probably the most recurring and scandalous of her many siblings) and all elements together made the story a winsome mix of amusing, exciting, tragic and intriguing.

Silent in the Sanctuary, the second book, continued in the same vein, albeit away from London, at the family seat. It’s a stronger book with a murder that did fox me more than the first book’s mystery did, and the more we see of Julia’s family the Marches the better – they’re a fantastic, chaotic crowd – and I was laughing out loud in various parts. These books are witty and smart, and yes, they have sizeable romantic elements too. At times I found it a tad soppy but the rest of the story – the murders, the family, the other entanglements – was so strong it barely registered.

The third book, Silent on the Moor, was rather oddly the weakest of the three in everything but plot. Without the marvellous March family to give it a bit of levity and character, the setting of a bleak, windswept, barren moor with a dilapidated grand manor and a properly gothic storyline felt too heavy and plodding, though it suited Raybourn’s writing. The humour was sparse, but as a gothic tale it was quite nice and creepy and satisfying in the way that gothic stories usually are. It was a convoluted crime, and the scene in which they uncover the contents of an ancient Egyptian coffin lingered in my mind for some time after. I finished it a couple of days ago and I’m glad to see there’s another book continuing the story as it did feel like despite the tidy resolution, there were enough loose ends for Raybourn to work her magic and conjure up another wicked plot.

It’d be a mistake to read these books hoping for Georgette Heyer levels of historical detail and precision. They have patches of being a bit dodgy in that respect but not so much that it disrupts the flow of the story – rather, it feels a slightly fantastical when considering the gypsy element, and I rather appreciated the pure escapism it offered (I really don’t consider escapism negative in the least).

Basically, my random book purchase that day was an absolute joy and I recommend the books to anyone who likes a good romance, a good murder mystery, a good bit of wit and intelligent plotting. There is a touch of the supernatural about the books, which I felt detracted a bit from the plots and the characters, but I can’t deny that as a plot device it was well (and in the first two books, sparingly) used.

Easily a 4/5. I enjoyed them so much.