Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Book Review: DEARLY, DEPARTED by Lia Habel

As the resident zombie lover, during our Teen Roundtable last week, I asked the teens what they thought about zombie romances. I mean, we have vampires, which are also undead and also threaten to eat their human lovers--so the logical next step is zombies. And then I realized that I'd never actually read a zombie romance.

So I ordered DEARLY, DEPARTED by Lia Habel, a book I've had my eye on since I saw the cover earlier this year. (Even though I have purchased over 30 books that I have not yet read--I really just needed an excuse to order this one. I have no willpower.) I stayed up way past my bed time finishing it, and then I dreamed of action, adventure, and zombies. I loved this book so much I'm tempted to brush off my old fanfiction account from when I was 13 and write some Nora/Bram love scenes. (I will restrain myself, but it is so very tempting.)

Description from AmazonLove conquers all, so they say. But can Cupid’s arrow pierce the hearts of the living and the dead—or rather, the undead? Can a proper young Victorian lady find true love in the arms of a dashing zombie? 

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.

In Dearly, Departed, romance meets walking-dead thriller, spawning a madly imaginative novel of rip-roaring adventure, spine-tingling suspense, and macabre comedy that forever redefines the concept of undying love.

DEARLY DEPARTED is a seriously fantastic book. The world is built so well and has so many facets, the characters are unique and interesting, the plot is full of twists, and the romance made me melt into hot chocolate. And, as one of my critique partners (who also happens to be Operative Special K) will tell you, romance and I do not always (or even usually) get along.

But I'll start with the world, which was my second favorite part, (after the total hotness that is Bram). New Victoria is a beautiful clash between modern technology and Victorian sensibilities. As a world it actually made sense to me. I can see a society, after an apocalyptic global warming type destruction of most of the world, wanting to return to another time period where everything seemed wonderful and romanticized (even though there were a lot of ugly aspects to the Victorian era, as well.) I have to admit that some post-apocalyptic worlds totally fail logic, in my opinion, but this one seemed probable.

The science that allows some of the zombies to stay active, and keep from rotting, is brilliant, actually. The zombies are constantly stitched up and injected with compounds that keep their brains and bodies active. Basically, decay is slowed to almost a halt--though, of course, any serious injury inflicted to a zombie will never heal. The plus side is that it doesn't really hurt them, either. It's a sad and hopeful thing at the same time. These characters that I really came to care for can be patched up really well by modern science--but they have an expiration date that's very final. At some point they will rot beyond repair, and actually, finally, die.

It reminds me of certain kinds of cancer, or Alzheimer's, or Huntington's--the diseases that destroy the human body and the human mind right in front of you. So even though DEARLY, DEPARTED is science fiction, there's something really immediate and really relevant about it. The greatest part was the hope some of the characters, like Bram, managed to have. The imminence of death was an inspiration to live more fully. And you don't have to be a zombie to appreciate that, or to learn from it. (Perhaps it's my personal angst at the way creative writing is taught in so many colleges (i.e. if you're not writing literary fiction, you're not doing anything worthwhile), but I always get a smug sort of happiness in proving that genre fiction is relevant to today.)

Angsty digression over, I promise. Anyway, on to more important things, like the romance. I do realize that some people might not be able to get past the idea of a romance with a zombie. But I gotta say, if you're one of those people, you should really try to get over it because you are MISSING OUT. Not only would the romance between Bram and Nora have been dream-worthy had Bram been a regular guy, but the fact that he's dead and deteriorating made it so much better. I didn't think rotting flesh could be the catalyst for so many beautiful moments between them.

First off, Nora has to see past a lot of physical barriers (Bram is still cute--but the whole being a corpse thing would definitely freak me out at first, too!) and that means that their romance is based on mutual trust and things in common rather than eyes meeting across the room and love at first sight. Whatever you may think of love at first sight, my personal opinion is that romance based on emotional development is much more satisfying.

And it's a sad romance. You know there are a lot of barriers up between them. Bram will "die" very soon--and science takes him only so far. Not only that, but when he does die he'll either be in really bad shape physically, or his brain will have totally turned to mush and he won't even be a person (see the disease thing here again? It's so relevant I want to take it back to a certain professor of mine who dismissed fantasy and science fiction with a turned up nose and slap it into his hands! Done now, I swear!) And Nora knows all this and still chooses a romance with him over trying to pretend like it isn't happening, or not letting it go anywhere.

A whole new facet to my love of zombies has been opened up. If you're the kind of person who gets grossed out by blood and guts (I'm not) I don't think this one will make you woozy at all. It's descriptive but without being overly graphic. You'll understand the mechanics of how the disease works and how certain zombies are able to stay basically human, but I don't think you'll need to put your head between your knees. And again I will say, if the idea of a zombie romance doesn't seem like your thing, TRY IT. Remember that vampires are dead, too, and that werewolves are wild animals some of the time. Plus I think good writing can convince us of just about anything, and Lia Habel definitely has the gift of good writing plus some extra.

There's only one more thing I can say: READ IT!

UPDATE: A fan of zombie love reviewed Alexandra's review! Watch it below!

Zombies for Alexandra!
by: cyanez123


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