I love Philadelphia, but I can understand why Eleanor Fitt is desperate to leave this city in the second book of Susan Dennard’s young adult trilogy. [Spoiler alert for those who haven't read the first book] It’s the mid-1870s, and as we saw in the first novel, Something Strange and Deadly, Miss Fitt has had the heart-breaking experience of losing her family, her friends, and her right hand to zombies rising from Laurel Hill Cemetery.
In the second book, A Darkness Strange and Lovely, which was released last week, we find Eleanor struggling to make ends meet without funds, without a support system, and without her hand. When she finds a pair of yellow eyes following her, she knows she has to reunite with the Spirit Hunters, who are in Paris, fighting the freshly dead and hungry Les Morts.
Certain there is nothing left for her in her hometown, Eleanor decides to “leave Philadelphia so far behind the past could never, ever catch up to [her].” She boards a steamer and “sail[s] the hundred miles of Delaware River to reach the ocean.”** It’s a treacherous journey, one that encourages Eleanor to flirt with the intoxicating black magic that turned her world upside-down.
Overall, the second book in this trilogy is a quick and worthwhile read for those who enjoyed the first novel enough to wonder about Eleanor’s future, but it’s not without its disappointments. As I said in a previous post, The Dead Have Risen in Philadelphia… To Entice You to Read This Book:
The Spirit-Hunters encourage Eleanor to question the confining social norms under which she lives, resulting in a hopeful, but perplexing ending that left me wondering how Eleanor would manage in the late nineteenth century as a young woman in her physical condition with her financial situation and damaged social status.
It could not have been easy for woman in Eleanor’s situation in 1875 in Philadelphia or in Paris, but, after a brief taste of how Eleanor manages after the Spirit Hunters’ departure from Philadelphia, Dennard largely sidesteps the issue. She gives Eleanor back her hand at least temporarily, and she connects Eleanor with a wealthy benefactor through her association with the Spirit Hunters. (All of this happens relatively early in the book, before the major action, so I don’t consider it much of a spoiler.)
Without much exploration of these social issues and without the Philadelphia setting (which was why I picked up the first book), the second book was far less interesting to me than I had hoped it would be. I have to acknowledge that I am not this novel’s intended audience, though. I don’t read that many young adult novels, and I am not particularly fond of zombie books or movies (not that I’m on board with those advocating for removal of the term “zombie apocalypse” from the English language).
In general, Dennard’s writing is solid, but at times, I felt like she was explaining too much without showing it or in addition to showing it, such as when she showed, explained, and repeated why Eleanor felt she had nothing left in Philadelphia. Another problem I had with the novel stems from the fact that it is part of an incomplete trilogy that leaves much of the plot unresolved (obviously). This book, like many mid-series books, does not stand alone. A mini-mystery is solved, but the progress Eleanor makes in this book isn’t quite enough to satisfy me until the third book comes out (whenever that is). I’m sure there are people out there who like cliff-hangers, but for the impatient among us, it may be best to hold off on this trilogy until all three books are available.
So now I’m curious: Do you enjoy reading books before the series is complete, or do you prefer to wait until the last book is out before you join in the fun?
**Obviously, the Delaware River and Philadelphia in the picture above (with my twins) is quite different from what Eleanor Fitt would have seen in 1875, but I couldn’t resist adding a picture.