Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Something Strange and Deadly by Susan Dennard

Title: Something Strange and Deadly
Author: Susan Dennard
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release Date: July 24, 2012
Pages: 400 pages (hardcover)
How I Got the Book: ARC via Amazon Vine.
Purchase/Pre-order: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository
Promotional Materials and More: book trailer | author website

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.


Something about the cover of this book always struck me as being off. The model's expression, maybe? The way her right eyebrow seems to dive straight into her eye? I'm not sure. Though I enjoyed Something Strange and Deadly for its first hundred pages, that same feeling of something being off came to me again, this time about the book's content. It took me less than half the book to figure out what's off this time: the predictability of the story and a few other details that ultimately made me dislike Dennard's debut novel.

The story was well-paced and well-plotted enough for me to read the majority of the novel in one day and the prose was quite nice. It wasn't a book I had to force myself to read by any means even when I lost the desire to keep reading. Though her character arc was not as great as I hoped it would be, what changes Eleanor went through did make me happy. These better facets of the novel keep it out of the zero-star range I save for terrible books, but they weren't enough to redeem what I considered book-breaking points.

What really broke Something Strange and Deadly was the fact that its mysteries--who the necromancer is and their motive, why certain people in Philadelphia are dying, who Elijah's bullies were, and more--were as subtle as a nuclear bomb going off.

That may sound like an exaggeration, but it's not. All the small hints at the larger picture aren't really that small.The answers were so obvious that I thought they had to be red herrings, and I wasn't happy to discover that my predictions were, in fact, correct and none of the answers I'd come up with were wrong. I wanted to be surprised and enchanted and sadly, I was not either when it came to this novel.

The reliance on tropes that are becoming more common in YA novels didn't help either. Mothers using their daughters in an attempt to attain money for them/their family and heroines being motivated by their missing/in-danger brothers? I've seen enough of both of those tropes to last me a few years. Stock characters thrown in here and there (I have become a lot more sensitive to and annoyed by stock characters as of late due to some recent nonfiction reading), weak characterization for almost all the characters who weren't named Eleanor Fitt, and how inauthentic the 1876 Philadelphia setting felt were other weak points that kept me from enjoying myself more.

Yes, I disliked Something Strange and Deadly. Yes, I am giving it only one star. Strangely enough, I do have an interest in reading the sequel--not to laugh at it, but because I'm genuinely interested in where Dennard will take her characters next. I have a good feeling A Darkness Strange and Lovely will be a vast improvement over this book. It's very rare I feel this way after reading a book I dislike; only one other book, The Faerie Ring by Kiki Hamilton, has ever gotten that reaction from me before and it's a very good sign.

1 star!

What am I reading next?: The Demon's Covenant by Sarah Rees Brennan