Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel is an excellent read. It’s also absolutely the best YA post-holocaust steampunk zombie romance I’ve ever read. Admittedly, it’s also the only YA post-holocaust steampunk zombie romance I’ve ever read.
Nora Dearly is the daughter of the late Dr. Victor Dearly. As in Dr. Victor Dearly, the recently departed. The title of the book is a pun. Oh is it ever.
Miss Dearly’s world is that of the Neo-Victorians. You see, we screwed up. Climate change happened, and it sucked. The survivors ended up in our equatorial regions, and they were the hardiest of the survivors. They deliberately looked back in history for an era of peace, stability and civilization. What did they choose? The Victorian Era! Even as they recovered our technology, and even surpassed it, their society became further entrenched in the cultural and societal norms of the Victorian Age. So by Miss Dearly’s time, we have airships, steampower, electric power, digital diaries, parasols, crinoline, and corsetry. In other words, we have steampunk.
The Neo-Victorians are at war with the Punks. The two sides have somewhat different views of how technology should and should not be used. And everybody wants everyone else’s territory. War is like that. But there’s a much bigger, badder threat from the outside, and both the NVs and the Punks are using the war against each other as a smokescreen to cover up who they are really fighting. They’re really fighting–zombies.
There’s a mutated disease out there in the wilds. It’s called “The Laz”. That’s a bit of appropriately gallows humor, as Lazarus was a man raised from the dead. Well, the Laz does that too, sort of. Victims of the Laz may or may not be as functional as the biblical Lazarus when they come back.
Nora’s father, Dr. Victor Dearly, figured out a way to keep victims of the Laz mentally functional and as physically capable as possible for as long as possible. For that, he became Director of Military Health of the Department of Military Health. It’s usually referred to as DoMH, pronounced “Doom”.
With the aid of Dr. Dearly’s research, there are now zombie troops fighting zombie incursions. In secret, of course. Nora knows none of this. All she knows is that her father is the only one who treats her like an intelligent human being, instead of a decoration, which is what girls are supposed to be. Then he dies and leaves her an orphan in the care of a cold-hearted Aunt.
Then the zombies come to New London. Opposing forces converging on Nora Dearly. One set to protect her, one to capture her. Nora finds herself whisked away from her home to the base for the NV Zombie unit in the care of Captain Bram Griswold, and her entire universe falls apart and reassembles itself, much like the human body does when it is attacked by the Laz disease.
It should be the end of the world as Nora knows it. A proper Neo-Victorian young lady should fall apart. But Nora is done falling apart. The new Nora kicks aside convention and kicks some serious ass. I like her a lot.
Escape Rating A: This turned out to be a great book. There was a tremendous amount going on, but all the elements were needed to make it work. I couldn’t figure out how anyone could make a zombie the hero/love interest, but it honestly does work in this book. On the other hand, if this were a contemporary book, and Nora actually wanted to have sex, I’m not sure how that would be managed. But since it is totally realistic for her not to even think of going there, it works. Nora wants someone to treat her like a real person and not a decorative object. Bram completely does that. This is about emotion, not body parts.
I’m looking forward to the next book, Dearly Beloved. I can’t wait to see where the story goes from here. I hope there’s a cure. I want Bram and Nora to have a happy ever after. That’s not realistic, but I want it for them just the same. Call me an optimist. Or call me a romantic.