Review: Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel

Monday, November 28, 2011
Author: Lia Habel
Genre: steampunk, horror (zombies), young-adult
Series: Gone with the Respiration #1
Pages: 384 (Nook NetGalley ARC edition)
Published: October 2011
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 3/5

Love 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.

I had my eye on this novel for a while before a copy of it fell into my greedy, cover-loving, teenage-steampunk-heroine craving hands. Dearly, Departed is indeed a great read for most of the novel, lively with NeoVictorian humo(u)r and futuristic themes, though it is hampered sadly by two (maybe three) too many POV's and overly-cartoonish and cliched villains. Dearly, Departed tries to do a lot with its 384 page length, with an eclectic mixing of a multitude of dramas and an inter-life relationship and it succeeds for enough of them - which is why I kept reading in spite of apparent issues early on in the novel's narrative. I liked the mix of a horror flair with the steampunkish nature, as I'd read a series with a similar bent but felt it lacked the urgency of a real zombie novel and I had a disconnection with the characters - a situation I hoped to find remedied in the intermingling of the genres here in Dearly, Departed.

I'm personally quite a large fan of steampunk novels and have been for about three years so this recent upswing in production of young-adult and adult novels with a Victorian bent and sly British humour is deeply appreciated when done right. And happily enough, one of the things that Lia Habel's series introduction Dearly, Departed nails on the head is the steampunk aspect of the freshman novel. With a mix of advanced tech and old-school steam function-ery (digidiaries, ID Chips, holographs, the required mention of "aether" with "Aethernet" ) in conjunction with highest (read: primmest) manners and ideals of the Victorian age, Dearly, Departed excels at creating a viable, evocative atmosphere with an original yet familiar locale. It certainly feels that the author researched and thought out everything about her society reborn from the ashes of destruction. Though the recent destruction seems ferociously apocalyptic in nature (massive climate issues, catastrophic storms, destroyed nations, new diseases and pandemics, a Second American Civil War, nuclear destruction, a SUPERVOLCANO!!, etc.) humans have survived and in this time of panic, they turned to manners, extreme social order and conformity. It's understandable and admittedly clever way of the author to authentically introduce such an anachronistic lifestyle into the year 2193.

Nora Dearly is a student at St. Cyprian's School for Girls. I really wished for more from this character, buton the whole I found Nora Dearly is a decent-to-good protagonist for this novel. I occasionally wanted to ask what the hell was wrong with her, but I didn't find her emotions and actions as off the rail as other reviews seem to have. Nora is definitely all over the place - the girl has the emotional range of ten people - but she goes through a lot in this novel. I didn't mind her rapid moodswings because they were within reason and not hysterical whining and crying.  Nora wasn't my favorite POV by far, that honor belongs to the charming and dashing and dead Captain Griswold, but in this novel of FIVE POV's she's not my least favorite, either. With both good zombies and bad zombies out for her blood, Nora's hesitation to trust is understandable and leads to a real friendship to blossom with the aforementioned Captain. I liked Nora best when with Bram (or maybe I just ignored her more ;]), and I loved their sweet but slightly cheesy and predictable romance. It worked for me, even though he's dead and she's a little bit self-centered, and a whole lot of crazy. I also wish the plot-line with Nora's girlish and silly "enemy" Vespertine Mink had been explored more: it seemed haphazard and random. .  . and I loathe the cliched, overdone "popular blonde girl" with a random hate-on for a main character. I wanted some reasoning, some valid explanation besides fomenting drama and girlfights.

Now, the other four POV's. We, as readers, are treated to insights not just from our erstwhile and goofy young lovers Nora and Bram but to: Victor (Nora's father), Pamela (Nora's best friend), and Averne Wolfe (the Commander in Charge of Bram's unit/division). Of these, I would say only Pamma's actually contributed much worthwhile to the plot of the story, and that was emotionality and mostly humor. I think Victor's perspective, endearing though it may have been, and Wolfe's should have been left on the editing room tables. They all ultimately end up feeling like filler, like a purposeful delay before returning to the more pertinent and relevant POV's of Nora and Bram. I actually quite enjoy Miss Pamma: she brings a little diversity into a whitewashed society and a little female ferocity to the table, but I couldn't look past her less-than-involving pages. I also found Averne to be quite comical - but probably not in the way (if she meant to at all) the author intended. His tirades and monologues to/at Bram were over-the-top and quite obvious. But Bram! I love Bram! I loved Bram's POV from the moment he appeared - the first page, the first paragraph. His is a prologue that is heart-wrenching, foreboding and appropriate. I loved his gentlemanly and refined interactions with nearly everyone: he may be dead, but he is still a gentleman, thank you very much. Though Bram is from a hostile country/territory to Nora's, they have far more in common than they do in differences. I would've enjoyed the entire novel so much more if it had been from this character's eyes alone.

I also admit to finding the zombie department of Dearly, Departed to be a bit wanting. With that prologue and the multiple, often intelligent, versions of the "Grays" (crawlers, lone wolves, bands of mindless flesh-eating machines. . .) I expected....well, more horror. With such a thorough background into the details and effects of the "Laz", I wished the author had conjured up a little more creepiness into her creatures. I liked the whole original and fresh idea of the origin of the zombies and the quest for the cure, but I wasn't impressed with the author's execution of them, particularly later in the novel. It seems that Nora is at least trying to duck the murderous degenerating undead for the first half and then. . . the attacks slow, trickle out. . . and, in the end, leave a lot of suspense to be desired. I never felt the urgency, the anticipation of the first part and that made finishing the latter bit a little harder than anticipated.

Dearly, Departed is, admittedly, quite far from perfect. It's also a lot more fun than I can seem to let on, and there are numerous aspects of this novel that I quite enjoyed. I just wish more had been trimmed so that Nora and Bram coudld shine a bit more, and that it had more chill and creepiness to it. I will certainly still definitely be seeking out the sequel Dearly, Beloved as soon as it is available, and hope that the steampunk gadgets and NeoVictorian charm have not worn out.


  1. I'm going to try to read this before my NetGalley arc expires because it looks like it really ought to be awesome. Your review has me slightly depressed because it's obviously not as fabu as I want it to be. Le sigh.

  2. I say you should. It's a bit of a mess, but a charming one. Worth a quick read, though not going to break into any "Best of" lists.

  3. I really want to read this. It sounds really good! But hopefully it lives up to its summary. I'm sorry you didn't like it as much as you thought you would. =( I'll still be reading it, just not ASAP. Thanks for the awesome review. =)

  4. NP, VB! Ha, that made me laugh. Anyway, if you like a steampunk tale I think you will enjoy this! Bram is also, admittedly, very hard to resist. I just hope book 2 is a bit tightened and edited more. Enjoy reading!


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