Bibliomantic Book Club: “Dearly, Departed” by Lia Habel

Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel
Release Date
: October 18, 2011
Genre: Zombies, Romance (ZOM ROM), dystopia, steampunk

Summary: It is 2195, and after years of war and disaster, humans have managed to rebuild civilization. Nora Dearly lives in the territory known as New Victoria. Desperate for security after decades of unrest, the founders of New Victoria decided to base their society on the Victorian era.

Strict social codes and standards are the law of the land. Nora attends a girls’ boarding school where she is expected to learn to be a proper lady, and her spendthrift, social-climbing aunt is only concerned with getting her a good (i.e. wealthy) husband.

But Nora isn’t content in the role that has been thrust upon her. Thanks to her father (who died the previous year from a mysterious disease), she’s fascinated by war, and the neighboring Punk territories with which New Victoria is in constant conflict. So fortunately for her, she’s kidnapped by zombies and taken to an army base, where she meets the adorable, dashing (and undead) Captain Bram Griswold. 

Nora finds new friends, new love, and a new life. Everything would be just great if it weren’t for that bothersome impending zombie apocalypse…

WARNING: As usual Stephanie’s post is full of lots of spoilers, so steer clear of that if you want some surprises.

CASSIE-WA’S THOUGHTS

How many times am I going to use the word “love” in this review? Let’s find out!

I LOVE THIS BOOK. I had so much fun reading it. After it was over, I wished I was still reading it and considered immediately reading it again.

First of all, I love Nora! When a hoard of zombies storms her house she freaks out (like a normal person), promptly gets a shotgun, climbs on the roof, and starts gunning them down. All while wearing a frilly nightdress. AMAZING.

I emphasize Nora’s normality because she is very believable and relatable. There was no, “Oh, I am not afraid of zombies for some reason because I am perfect” (I’m trying really hard not to compare this to Twilight but…). She was TERRIFIED of zombies, even the nice ones! It takes her a long time to become accustomed to them, and trust that they aren’t going to eat her.

I LOVE the bantering zombie teens! When the story begins, we are introduced to the stuffy, standards-driven society of New Victoria, where everyone addresses each other formally and speaks with old fashioned courtesy. Then we meet the zombie teens who say things like, “You killed me, you loser!” YES.

I AM IN LOVE WITH BRAM. He’s hilarious and self-deprecating and a sweetheart. I wish his and Nora’s relationship wasn’t on a one-way, non-stop track for TRAGEDY, but I also think I won’t like if they find a way around it. We shall see.

The only thing I didn’t necessarily like were the POV changes between chapters, although that may just be because George R.R. has turned me off to it. True, no POVs were really boring (except Wolfe–did we need him? I guess his chapters were to keep us guessing about his intentions? I didn’t really care), and I was so glad to have Pamela’s, but I hate being torn out of one part of the story just when it gets good!

One POV that I thought needed to be added was Vespertine’s. She’s the popular bitch character at Nora’s school. When Nora goes missing, Vespertine goes out of her way to destroy her reputation on national television. Then you find out she likely has a miserable home life, and passion for music and her family’s business, and… online gaming. She clearly has depth as a character, but we don’t ever learn more about her and her motivations. I think a chapter or two from her would have been fascinating.

Also, there is excellent zombie gore. And everyone is hilarious. And Nora and Bram are adorable. Dearly, Departed might be my favorite zombie anything, ever!

STEPHANIE’S THOUGHTS

I believe in Zom-Rom. Not that I was exactly doubting it before reading this book, but I didn’t really get it or how it would work. And then IT WAS AMAZING. I absolutely loved this book. There were snarky zombies, shenanigans, a great villain, and just the perfect amount of romance. I don’t think I have a single complaint. I love zombies anyway, but any book that literally makes you yell out loud “No!! Don’t kill the zombies!” must be good. It really twisted my brain around and made me totally consider zombies in a new way. Absolutely love it. As Renfield (who is named Renfield and is a zombie nerd!!) says, “Vampires are zombies with good PR!”

Okay, so we’ll start with Nora. She is a badass. But like…in a really good believable way. Her father has died a year ago, uptight boarding school is lame, her best friend Pam is a scholarship student, and she naturally has a nemesis at school – in this case with the fab name of Vespertine. Then they go home for break…and there’s zombies. Nora is attacked in the night by a terrifying group of brain sucking zombies. Her reaction? RUN AND GET HER FATHER’S GUNS TO SHOOT THEM!! Love it. Unfortunately as this book takes place many, many years in the future – the knowledge of having to shoot zombies in the HEAD has been lost. But it’s a really good effort on her part. The scariest part of this scene for me…one of the zombies who are after her TALKS. I kind of lost my shit a little. That scary zombie was TALKING. Terrifying. What other reasoning skills might they have?? Also these zombies run and climb and yikes!! Luckily, Nora is rescued…..by GOOD ZOMBIES.

Seriously, I can’t even get over how obsessed I am with the idea of good zombies. Bram is just…wonderful. He’s smart and he loved his mama and he works hard and he’s so sweet and just everything you’d ever want in a boyfriend. Except for that like…not being alive part. Naturally, Nora completely freaks out when she learns she is surrounded by dead people and that they’re still kind of alive despite not doing the usual breathing and blood pumping stuff. However, even from the beginning when she is flat out terrified of Bram – she kind of takes to him immediately without even meaning to. When she is upset, she wants HIM even if she only wants him on the other side of a door with 10 locks on it. It’s pretty adorable and I was so excited to watch the build up to zom-rom happiness which happened so naturally and adorably.

Meanwhile, Nora’s father is actually alive and is a zombie and then we find out that Nora is immune to becoming a zombie! At first I was like, that is tragedy because she can’t be a zombie like Bram! But then I realized that becoming a zombie is NOT like becoming a vampire because zombies only live for like 5 years usually after they become zombies. All of this fake zombie science really made a lot of sense to me, lol. I liked it! So yeah, their relationship is really tragic anyway. Which is why I was satisfied with the not-really-ending ending. Because for them there is no settle down and just be happy. Bram is a zombie and they have to deal with it every day, but they love each other so they do!!

Elsewhere in the book there were these evil dudes who got defeated, Pamela – the scholarship student – turns out to be a total badass who stabs zombies in the face with parasols and puts on pants in an emergency, and there’s some stupid foppy kid who is a little bitch. It all worked. It was all good, man.

Also – I really liked the part where Dr. Dearly literally said to Nora and Bram, “Where do we go from here?” As if we weren’t already thinking about Zombie Prom enough!! Nora, face it. The boy is dead. You’d be a widow before you’re wed.

There were so many great lines in this book though. Snark levels were high, especially with the zom crew – Chas, Tom, and Coalhouse. Love, love, love.

I think my very favorite though was after Bram bit Nora and she asked him if he enjoyed it. He said he did. She thinks for a moment and then said, “Like filet mignon good or like candy good?” And Bram just thinks, “I loved her.” Oh my god, zom-rom. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE.

In conclusion, Bram chapters are WAYYY more interesting than Bran chapters, good zombies are like the best invention ever, snarking is the best form of communication, and I would totally love to read more books in this universe. What an absolutely fantastic read.

KELLY’S THOUGHTS

A zombie novel, Victorian era AND steam punk, AND a Dystopia? I was skeptical upon reading the description. How could all of these things work in one book without the plot exploding? Well, I have experienced a total conversion at the skilled hands of Ms Lia Habel. This novel contains all of the aforementioned traits, plus kickass action scenes, uproariously funny dialog, and a romance that would kick start any undead’s heart.

But what truly turned me from  I Really Like This Book to the OMG I Love It Forever was the lack of a brush. What the hell am I talking about, you may be wondering. Ladies with curls know brushes are the enemy. But in every stinking book with a curly-headed protagonist, she brushes out her beautiful curls to shining perfection. Except if you do that, you look like It the Clown. So when Nora went to do her hair, I steeled my brain against the inaccuracy. Except Nora didn’t brush her hair. She styled it with her fingers. Instant love forever.

Ahem – crazy curl antics aside. Wow. I can’t praise this book enough. And knowing Habel is a first time author makes it even more impressive. I especially loved the undertones of oppression the girls fight against. The New Victorian society has safety and technology, but at what cost to freedom? The exploration of repression and choice gives this YA fantasy real substance that resonates in our era.

One tiny dislike – the Wolfe chapters (of which there are only two) seem unnecessary. They don’t really advance the plot, and take me away from the characters I’m actually interested in. Which are basically all of the young people. The relationships are so believable (despite the whole undead thing in the way) and cute and poignant that I was annoyed when I was taken out of that moment. Thankfully it wasn’t often.

Rarely do I throw aside all other responsibilities and just read a book from start to finish. I did with Dearly, Departed. Once you start this excellent novel, nothing will pry it from your hands – not even undeath!

CASSIE-LA’S THOUGHTS

There are not enough words to express how in love with this novel I am. However, I will attempt to do it justice, although such a thing will be crazy difficult.

Dearly, Departed opens right into the gross, gory action, with everyone’s favorite sexy zombie Bram (whose POVs we all much prefer to Bran POVs) living out his last moments as a full blooded human. Despite his filmy eyes, Bram (AKA Abraham) makes a dashing figure in his dress uniform, is a good dancer, and an even better conservationist. Sadly, as a result of the Lazarus syndrome, or the Z, he is forced to eat tofu for protein, and needs his fluids replaced in order to stay alive and functioning. Being forced to eat tofu is a pretty painful fate (what about animal brains?) and even more so because he knows that zombies lose their minds to the disease in the course of their undeath. This however cannot stop him feeling for living, breathing, and all around spunky female Nora Dearly.

What makes Bram even sexier (all this sexy zombie talk will probably turn you off if you have not read the novel) is his relation to the Punk movement, no, not that one. The Punks believe in an end to technology and mass-produced goods, and a return to an even simpler time where piano legs needed to be covered lest males get too aroused. I’m probably exaggerating.

Perhaps the most intriguing part about this novel -adorable romantic entanglements aside- is the premise of a New Victorian society, very steampunk, but with a viable explanation rather than just, “oh, it’s steampunk. It is the year 2139 and 150 years prior after a combination of global cooling, the destruction of Cuba, Indonesia, England, and Japan by storms, Canada infecting the US with influenza, a second American Civil War, nuclear destruction, and a super volcano in Yellowstone there was a shift in attitude. Due to the destruction and pollution brought on by their ancestors, the survivors shift to a degree of extreme conservatism, manifested in the creation of the New Victorian.

Girls wear Victorian gowns, are prim and proper, don’t show their legs, and are forced into arranged marriages in order to propel their families up the social ladder. Except their parasols have lit lanterns on top and instead of keeping diaries they write in digidiaries. Minus the arranged marriages and the brain eating, it sounds like a wonderful place to live. Nora even gets to wear a red taffeta gown, which put me in mind of Lydia’s wedding gown in Beetlejuice. Pretty much, I want to go to there.

Ultimately, Dearly, Departed is a wonderful combination of wit, romance, intriguing characters, and a tight storyline. I for one cannot wait for the sequel. TEAM BRAM all the way!

This was not my first zomrom (zombie romance as you now know), and it will not be my last. In fact, it has surpassed my prior favorites in the zomroms, beating out Breathers and Generation Dead. And even if you remove it from the genre, it’s still a pretty damn good book and Lia Habel’s first published novel no less. Plus she’s adorable! I don’t think we’ve reviewed a cuter author since Stephenie Perkins and her blue hair.

“If you let me go, I will organize a charity function that you will not believe. It will be, as our ancestors used to say, ‘epic’.”

WHAT WE LIKED MOST:
-We love zom rom!
-Bram: Bringing undead sexy back since 2193
-New Victorian society
-Snarky zombie teens

WHAT WE LIKED LEAST:
-Wolfe chapters (still not as bad as Bran chapters)

Join us next month when we review our December Bibliomantic Book Club Book: Clockwork Prince by Cassandra Clare.

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