Susan Dennard’s trilogy about zombies rising in 1876 — Something Strange & Deadly, A Darkness Strange & Lovely, and Strange & Ever After — was an unlikely choice for me:
- (1) I’m not particularly interested in paranormal historical fiction;
- (2) The stereotypical cover featuring a blonde, young woman in a fancy dress doesn’t appeal to me;
- (3) I’m about two decades older than its intended teenage audience; and
- (4) I can’t remember the generic titles (which has nothing to do with my age, I’m not that old!).
But when I found out that Dennard’s zombies originate in Philadelphia, my hometown, I just had to read the first book.
Much to my surprise, I loved Something Strange & Deadly, in which Eleanor searches for her brother and meets the Spirit-Hunters employed by the city to stop the Necromancer from raising the Dead. In my review, I wrote:
[I]t was a thrill to see so many Philadelphia sites included in her story. Eleanor has tea at 9th and Chestnut, which is the corner I used to live on; several of the boys who become the Dead were classmates at Germantown Academy, where my sister subbed for Latin last year; a character is admitted to Pennsylvania Hospital, where my other sister works in the Emergency Department; and, of course, the Dead are rising from Laurel Hill, which I pass on my way to work every day.*
The second novel, A Darkness Strange & Lovely, took place in Paris, where Eleanor and the Spirit-Hunters fight the freshly dead and hungry Les Morts. It wasn’t as captivating as the first novel, but it was good enough for me to pre-order the third and final novel in the trilogy, which arrived on my Kindle last week.
One of the benefits of reading this novel on an e-reader is that I didn’t have to look at the cover. It’s yet another pale, pretty girl in a fancy dress, even though the protagonist of this story is a zombie-fighting woman who usually wears men’s clothing.** As she explains, “I cannot outrun the Dead in skirts and flounce.”
I appreciated Eleanor’s deviation from the gender norms of the time. However, for most of the novel, she is heavily dependent on the men in her life, particularly her “demon” (which isn’t as sinister as it sounds) and, to a lesser extent, her love interest. The needlessly prolonged confirmation of Eleanor’s affection for this guy was annoying, but maybe it’s more believable to younger readers (its intended audience) who are less sure of themselves when it comes to love.
Eventually, Eleanor gains greater independence in an ending that I can only say is, well, controversial. I hated it at first. I wondered why would Dennard end the story like this: Was it to further Eleanor’s personal growth? Was it to avoid a pesky love-triangle? Was it to toy with her readers’ emotions?
After stewing over it for a few hours, though, I could finally see that what Dennard did was a fitting ending to the series, even if it isn’t the one I would’ve written. I’d love to see someone (preferably Dennard!) write an alternative ending or take the current ending to the next step. I can’t be the only reader interested in getting to know “Mr. McIntosh” a little better.
*In my first post on this series, I included pictures of what Laurel Hill Cemetery looks like today. Those pictures were from winter (see here). In this post, I’ve included two pictures of what Laurel Hill—and the view from Laurel Hill—looks like in July.
**Eleanor managed to get away with wearing men’s clothing better than Frog Music’s Jenny did (see Emma Donoghue’s Frog Music: Portraying Gender Norms That Still Exist Today).