Lia Habel,
Dearly, Departed
(Del Rey, 2011)

I read Dearly, Departed back in October and had such a "meh" reaction that I decided to wait in order to let a more eloquent opinion form. Almost six months later, I still don't have much to say about this book. It rides on the current trendiness of zombies, throwing in a steampunk neo-Victorian setting, an inevitable romance and way too many narrators. Not too surprisingly, the result is a bit ... muddy.

The star-crossed lovers are Nora, the daughter of a deceased prominent doctor, and Bram, a victim of the "Laz," an incurable disease that reanimates the dead and eventually drives them into crazed cannibalism. ("Brains....") The characters are rather forgettable. Nora is your usual feisty, beautiful teen, and Bram is kind of a doormat who makes up in niceness for what he lacks in vital signs. I can't think of any other books in which the romantic hero is basically embalmed -- and I'm not sure that's a bad thing. The disease that causes zombie-ism, however, is brilliant. The Laz, like mad cow disease, is caused by infectious folded proteins (prions) in the brain that eventually create holes. Unlike mad cow disease, you only need to be bitten (rather than eat diseased meat or, especially, brains) to contract the Laz. This is, without a doubt, the coolest explanation for zombie-ism ever.

Unfortunately, the prions are the highlight, at least for me. The story is marred by multiple narrators, at least half of whom add nothing to the story, and a climax in which half the action takes place off stage. I also didn't find the romance particularly compelling and have no interest in finding out how Bram miraculously avoids succumbing to the incurable Laz in future books. Maybe I'm just not cool or young enough to appreciate Dearly, Departed, but it seems more like a bundle of slick, trendy, sometimes interesting ideas than a cohesive work with emotional depth and memorable characters.

book review by
Jennifer Mo

6 April 2013

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