Susan Dennard’s “A Darkness Strange & Lovely” (A Review)

A view of foggy Philadelphia over the Delaware River
A view of foggy Philadelphia over the Delaware River

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.

Book Two Dennard ThumbnailIn 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.


  1. I imagine that that river view beyond the modern foreground won’t have changed so much AMB? Very atmospheric. (No view on the zombie book I’m afraid, too old).

    1. On a foggy day, I’m sure it looks very much the same as it did in the 1870s. The area near the river has some very old buildings too (by American standards!), but a lot of it has changed.

  2. Seems to me it was a mistake to release the 2nd novel without even a release date for the 3rd book. They should have learned something from The Matrix movies: they filmed the 2nd and 3rd movies at the same time, then released them a mere 6 months apart from each other, precisely to avoid this sort of dangling cliff-hanger problem. Now, movies in series are commonly released closely together, as they should be.

    1. That’s an interesting bit of background about The Matrix. I haven’t seen a release date for the third book, and I’m not sure how long I’m willing to wait. The second book isn’t as memorable as the first book, and so I might not be inclined to finish the series by the time the third book rolls around. It will depend on what else has piqued my interest.

  3. The picture is wonderful! I really like the way the girls look so vibrant in the foreground with the misty view of the river in the background. I don’t read many series, so I don’t have much of an opinion about when is the best time to read a series–and I’m not a zombie book fan (though I probably should admit that I’ve never actually read a zombie book). 🙂

    1. Thank you! We took that picture on their birthday last December, and it was so hard to get both of them to smile at the camera. It was an unseasonably warm winter day, and we got quite a bit of rain instead of snow. As for genres, this book is probably best described as paranormal historical fiction. The historical setting makes the book more interesting than a typical zombie novel (not that I’ve read many).

    1. It’s the type of book I probably would’ve appreciated more during my teenage years than I do now. I can’t wait until I can start recommending books like this to my own girls (unless any overlap in our reading material would dissuade them from trying it out!).

      1. I’m open to making up a little lost time. I wasn’t a big reader as a kid. If it’s a good story, I’ll read it. For some reason I didn’t get into Harry Potter back in it’s heyday. I read the first two, then lost interest.

        1. I was a latecomer to Harry Potter, but I did enjoy it. I’m looking forward to when my kids start reading those books. I haven’t read JK Rowling’s more recent books. The Casual Vacancy is too grim for my taste, and I’m still annoyed by “Robert Galbraith.”

  4. I usually do better waiting until the last book in a series is out, as I get too impatient otherwise. I like to devour all the books in a row. 🙂 (P.S. Love this pic of your girls).

    1. Thanks! We took this picture on my twins’ fifth birthday back in December. We went to Adventure Aquarium, which is right along the Delaware river in Camden, New Jersey.

  5. I think it depends on the cliff hanger for me. I’m usually fairly patient as
    long as I’m not waiting to hear whether or not one of my favorite characters is going to live or die. I only don’t like waiting for series if they take over a year for each book to come out.

    1. I wish I were more patient! With this series, there was an entire year between the first and second books, and I haven’t seen an anticipated release date for the third one. With the first book, I was interested enough to wait until the release of the second (which wasn’t too long because I read the first book several months after it came out). I thought the second book was good, but perhaps not good enough for me to remember to get the third book when it becomes available (whenever that is). Thanks for the comment!

    1. Thank you! We took that picture on their birthday last December. It was a surprisingly warm day for that time of year. We were visiting Camden’s Adventure Aquarium. I had the hardest time trying to get the two of them to look at the camera at the same time!

  6. I’m not sure if I caught that last review. Either way, sounds like a series I definitely need to throw in the library queue.

    As for series, hmmm, tough question. If they’ve written it well enough, I can’t wait. I must consume what’s available yesterday. But it’s not that I’ve forgotten how LONG Rowling made us wait for the HP series after Book 4. That didn’t stop me from consuming it in one night… *ahem* Anyway, some series I have decided to wait on until they were all out. (Like Twilight, not that it would have mattered, as I could hardly make it through Book 1. Not my thing. At all.)

    I guess now with limited amounts of free time it doesn’t bother me “as much” because there are so many other great books to be read in the meantime. But the only one I’m waiting on is Book 3 of The Kingkiller Chronicle—though I’ll admit he nearly killed me off with his excessive details in Book 2. But Book 1 is pretty fantastic once you get into it. I’d recommend it solely for his use of description. He really paints a picture well. It’s just longish—especially Book 2.

    Okay, off to add this to my library queue. Thanks! 🙂

    1. I hope you enjoy it! I really liked the first book, which makes the second one worth reading. The second book is pretty good, but it didn’t have the charm the first book had (that’s probably because of the Philly scenery, so readers from other places might have a different opinion). By the way, I apologize for not including a spoiler alert when I gave away details from the first book (by describing how Eleanor was in the beginning of the second book).

      As for books in a series, it makes sense that it doesn’t matter as much when there are so many other books available to fill our limited free time. My problem is that I prefer to read one book at a time. So, right now, I feel like I’ve stopped a book (the series) halfway through and now have to turn my attention to something else. I don’t like it!

  7. Eery view of Philadelphia! I don’t mind cliff hangers as long as I don’t have to wait too long for te resolution.

    1. Yeah, a short period of time between installments wouldn’t be so bad, but that’s not what we have here. There was an entire year between the first and second books, and so far, I haven’t seen an anticipated release date for the third book.

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