Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Young Adult Gothic Literature

I should mark the beginning of my official foray into Gothic literature with a book review of a Young Adult Gothic novel.


Something Strange and Deadly

Author: Susan Dennard


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.

Published 24 July 2012.


IT is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife. 

So begins Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. And hereby, unfolds a tale of glitzy tea parties, handsome eligible bachelors and misunderstood love. 

Add some steampunk and the Dead to this classic and "voilĂ !", you get the novel-- Something Strange and Deadly. And the result is something deadly to the heart.

Deadly because you will fall head over heels in love with it, in love with its setting, its characters and its plot.

Eleanor of the Philadelphia Fitts is a faded member of the high society. Her single-parent family is struggling to make ends meet and her mother is as eager as the legendary Mrs Bennet to marry her off to the rich and handsome Clarence who is of good status.

Yet, Eleanor only meets her real Mr Darcy when she is forced face-to-face with the Spirit-Hunters after her brother, Elijah, goes missing. With the Dead rising from all around Philadelphia, Eleanor has to split her waking hours between squeezing into corsets while attending operas and working with the Spirit-Hunters to prevent the Dead population from spiralling out of control. At the same time, there is also the puzzling mystery of who is the Necromancer behind the hungry dead and the family mystery that seems to tie in closely with the deaths of high society members. 

The plot grows thicker and thicker and we are swept up in a whirlwind of adventure and of course, romance. Our Byronic hero appears in the form of the sandy-haired Daniel Sheridan and no one can describe Byronic heroes better than famous historian Lord Macaulay-- he is proud, moody, cynical, with defiance on his brow, and misery in his heart, a scorner of his kind, implacable in revenge, yet capable of deep and strong affection. With such a character, the romance in this novel goes up by a notch. Slowly and deliciously, the two stubborn characters (Eleanor and Daniel) start falling for each other. But, Susan Dennard makes it impossible to forget their romance with an open-ended closure, not satisfying enough, yet still full of hopeful promises.

As for the identity of the necromancer, Dennard executes a thin thread that runs consistently throughout the whole novel. The whodunnit had me making wild guesses at every turn and kept me constantly delighted.     

Ultimately, I just want to say that each and every element in the novel, be it adventure, romance or mystery, is just truly exceptional. I will fall in love with the mystery in this novel all by itself. But, having a gorgeous romance and a blood-pumping adventure doesn't hurt as well!

It seems almost impossible to have steampunk alongside with zombies and to have it take place in the 1800s, but Susan Dennard has achieved it all in one go. That is why you shall have to read the book simply if not for any other reason than to see how she does it. 

And trust me, she does it gloriously and brilliantly.