by Lia Habel
Cover Artist: David Stevenson, based on photo by Michael Front
Review by Gayle Surrette
Del Rey Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780345523310
Date: 18 October 2011 List Price $16.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
If you came to this book, Dearly, Departed, with no idea of what it was about, you could guess steampunk from the clothing of the girl on the cover and maybe vampires from the tagline --love can never die. You'd be partly right, it is very much a steampunk novel, but the immortality is that of zombies. Yes, you read that right. There is a love story but it's between a human and a zombie. Lia Habel has developed a very interesting variation on zombies.
In Dearly, Departed, Zombies are the result of people contracting a disease from contact with the body fluids of those infected. However, those zombies who return almost immediately after death maintain their brain function while those who revive after a long delay are the mindless eating machines we've come to know and loath from literature and media.
This world is very different from ours, climate change forced migration to the new temperate zones, and governments and society collapsed. New political groups formed. The two that are important to this story are New Victorians and the Punks. One of our main characters is Nora Dearly, a young woman in New Victoria. New Victoria elected to resurrect the society and mores of the Victorians along with all the baggage that entails. While Nora can go to school and be educated, she cannot – as an upper class young woman – have any status of her own but only share the status of her husband. While Nora is not inclined to marriage, her aunt and guardian, is determined that she do so. Currently, their status is based on that of her father, Dr. Victor Dearly who died a year ago. Luckily for Nora and her aunt, Victor had friends in very high places. Another point of view character is Pamela Roe, Nora's best friend who is of a slightly lower class as her father is a baker.
Bram, another viewpoint character, is a zombie and a soldier. He's part of a secret government strike force that is dedicated to eradicating the mindless zombies and stopping the spread of infection. He and the others in this force are those who maintained their personality and cognitive processes after their death from the disease. A secondary point of view character is Wolfe, Bram's commanding officer who is human.
These people, as well as a few others, become our windows into the world, society, and the various plot threads. Habel manages to create an entire world, populate it, and make it seem real. The threat from the disease and the existing zombies is real and the government is desperate to keep this problem hidden to avoid panic.
Nora is an interesting multifaceted character. She's consistently put in situations and has to adapt and move forward with the facts at hand, even when they take her out of her Victorian comfort level. She's still mourning the loss of her father when she learns that her aunt, and guardian, has run them into debt so deep that only marriage to a very rich man can save them. Reeling from that revelation, she's kidnapped during an attack on her home by people who are outwardly very, very ill. Shortly after she learns that everything she knew about her world and how it works is wrong. Again she must adapt or give up and Nora Dearly is not the type to give up.
Dearly, Departed is definitely not the usual zombie story, or the usual post-apocalyptic story. It's not the usual anything. But, it's a well written, exciting, page-turning adventure from first to last page. Promoted as a young adult novel, don't let that put you off – this is a story that will appeal to anyone who wants to read a new take on an old horror trope.