Strange & Ever After: A Perplexing End To A Worthwhile Trilogy

034 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.

Susan Dennard SeriesIn the third book, Strange & Ever After, Eleanor and the Spirit-Hunters wind up in Egypt, where they finally face the Necromancer responsible for Eleanor’s pain.

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.

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*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).

16 thoughts on “Strange & Ever After: A Perplexing End To A Worthwhile Trilogy

  1. Alexandrina Brant

    Interesting. As you say, the covers and titles are so generic, I never would’ve guessed they were about zombies had you not mentioned it. Not a genre I’d personally read, but it’s good to hear what you think as an non YA reader.
    I’m almost at the end of writing a first draft of a steampunk book set in 1880, and I think that, although independent woman are great (though, personally, I think the ‘strong heroine’ trope is overdone), an element of dependence needs to be included for a historical to be more realistic.

    1. Yeah, the covers and titles really don’t do justice to what is otherwise a pretty good trilogy. There are a lot of steampunk elements in it, too.

      Good luck with your steampunk book! Congratulations on being almost at the end of the first draft. I can understand the desire to keep characters limited to the social mores and gender stereotypes of the time period, but there’s a risk that it’ll be unsatisfying to modern readers who expect more strength and independence from their heroines.

      Have you read Wrede & Stevermer’s Cecelia & Kate books? It’s set in 1817/1818, and they strike a balance between the limits of the time and the expectations of modern readers. It wasn’t enough for me, though. I felt like some of Jane Austen’s characters were actually more independent than Kate & Cecelia were in book 2*. This is what I wrote about it in “History: Without An Imagination, It’s Only ‘Old Rocks,'” (7/15/14) (https://misfortuneofknowing.wordpress.com/2014/07/15/history-without-an-imagination-its-only-old-rocks/):

      “I’m keeping my fingers crossed that by Book 3 in this series (published in 2006), Cecy and Kate have found their footing in their marriages and exert more independence from their husbands. Such behavior might be “inappropriate” and unlikely for married women of their social class in the early 19th Century, but let’s not forget that this series of novels is fiction, not history.”

      *Of course, that could be because I don’t really know what Jane Austen’s main characters would’ve been like in marriage. However, Mrs. Bennett and Mary Musgrove, as crazy as they were (in different ways), certainly expressed their independence.

    1. It was really fun to read about Dennard’s zombie-ridden, late 19th Century version of Philadelphia in the first book. I loved seeing the references to Laurel Hill, the Schuylkill River, and other Philly locations.

  2. I have avoided all zombie books so far, and I plan on keeping it that way. It’s a ridiculous trope to me (I admit I may be in the minority, given its proliferation recently). I like the darkness of the covers, but the models don’t do anything for me, either.

    It’s great that you were willing to think about the end you initially disliked and realize it was apt, even if not the one you would have chosen. Authors appreciate readers who ponder a while before shooting from the hip.

    As a reader, I enjoy the unexpected, though my first reaction to what I consider a bad turn might not be positive. Give me a minute. I’ll think it through and probably come around. 😉

    1. Yeah, zombie books aren’t for everyone. This is one of the few zombie books I’ve read (and I think there’s only one zombie movie I’ve ever liked!). I read it only because the first book was set in Philly. In that book, Dennard did a great job of making 1876 Philadelphia feel real, even with the zombies!

    1. Aren’t the covers terrible?! I find it particularly annoying because part of Eleanor’s non-conforming identity is that she doesn’t wear skirts! She wears a skirt only once or twice in the third novel, and I don’t think it was green. Most of the Goodreads reviews seemed to really like the cover. I have no idea why.

  3. I am not a huge fan of YA fiction, but I find myself reading it now and then, often enjoying it, even if not loving it. Other than your mentioning of these books I had not heard of them before. You’ve got me curious though!

    I’m reading a YA book right now of the paranormal variety–not historical–and already I’m rolling my eyes at the main character. I’m not even a full chapter in, and so it is too soon to pass judgement on the book.

    1. Ah yes, I find myself rolling my eyes at YA characters from time to time. In this book, I thought the beginning of Eleanor’s relationship with Daniel was particularly annoying, but I could see how some 14-18-year-olds might think it’s normal.

  4. Haha! You grumble about stereotypical covers like I do about the covers of Runners’ World – alternatively a beautiful, tanned goddess running three inches above the beach, make-up perfect, not a bead of sweat, and a ripped, handsome bloke looking at you with smouldering blue eyes. All done in the name of sales, not realism. Love your photos.

    1. Yes, those stereotypical covers drive me crazy! I’m not the intended audience for this book–and so those covers aren’t meant to appeal to me–but I think it’s very sad if that type of cover is needed to encourage teenage girls to pick up a book. Eleanor doesn’t wear dresses! That’s part of her non-conforming identity. She only wore a skirt once or twice in the third book, and I don’t think it was even green.

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