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A Darkness Strange and Lovely by Susan Dennard

A Darkness Strange and Lovely by Susan Dennard

A Darkness Strange and Lovely
by Susan Dennard

A Darkness Strange and Lovely (Something Strange and Deadly #2)

By: Susan Dennard

Release Date: July 23, 2013

Rating: 4 stars

Summary: Following an all-out battle with the walking Dead, the Spirit Hunters have fled Philadelphia, leaving Eleanor alone to cope with the devastating aftermath. But there’s more trouble ahead—the evil necromancer Marcus has returned, and his diabolical advances have Eleanor escaping to Paris to seek the help of Joseph, Jie, and the infuriatingly handsome Daniel once again. When she arrives, however, she finds a whole new darkness lurking in this City of Light. As harrowing events unfold, Eleanor is forced to make a deadly decision that will mean life or death for everyone.

 

Review:

Something Strange and Deadly was one of those books that’s a lot of fun but also could’ve used a bit more depth. I mean, I like steampunk, I like zombies, why wouldn’t I like steampunk and zombies? – but at the same time, the plot was also extremely predictable and the same cheesy humor that made the story so engaging also made it hard to take seriously. Great in small doses, but why would I want to read the sequel? Well as it turns out, because A Darkness Strange and Lovely (great title by the way, and completely appropriate to boot) is a second book that grows and matures almost as much as its heroine, Eleanor Fitt, that’s why.

I usually like to start by talking about how awesome the plot is because I’m the kind of guy who gets bored easily, especially if I feel like I haven’t gotten my fill of scenes of gentlemen getting their arms chomped on by zombies or ladies screaming in all directions while uselessly waving their parasols about in panic, but as I said in my review of the first book, my favorite part of this series actually isn’t the zombie on human violence, but the characters (or at least some of them). Eleanor’s a character who’s all about balance – in the first book, it was being a proper Victorian lady on one hand and finding excitement by doing her own thing against her mother’s wishes on the other, here, she’s balancing the corrupting influences of her family’s necromantic powers against the Spirit Hunter’s reluctance downright hostility towards that kind of magic. I love how Susan Dennard has written a book where the right answers aren’t just shoved in my face, where everything isn’t black and white, but rather, asks questions like – is black magic inherently evil? – or is it the person using it that makes it evil? and then gave me answers that could go either way. And I also love how the events of the first book, which seemed so silly at the time, have transformed Eleanor’s character from a naive ingenue into a gritty, more serious survivor type here – one of my favorite lines in fact is Eleanor talking about how she used to think Clarence was just a narrow minded suitor and her brother just an innocent victim, back when she was naive and stupid and thought the world was a good place – I’ve always said despite Something Strange and Deadly‘s shallowness and high level of predictability, a lot of the book was also about exceeding expectations and breaking stereotypes, and it’s nice to see exactly that confirmation. Even the allure of necromancy breaks the mold; as the title says, darkness really is strange and lovely, and dangerous, and corrupting, and necessary, and misunderstood, and maybe in the right hands even a little bit good, and I just found all the different attitudes and nuances to what Eleanor must do and the difficult choices she has to make really well done.

The plot too I can say is a vast improvement from the first book. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who had the identity of the necromancer all figured out well before the end of that book, but this time around my theory going into the second half actually turned out to be wrong. Dennard definitely does a better job than before throwing red herrings around, complicating the situation behind les morts – the Dead – in Paris. In fact, one of the better decisions she’s made is introducing new character Oliver, who on the surface appears harmless enough, but then she builds in all these clues pointing to him as the culprit, many of them in offhand remarks that I don’t think the other characters even caught on to. After how obvious everything was in the first book, I had to check myself several times, trying to decide if an obvious villain really was the villain or figuring out how to explain another clue pointing to Oliver, and, well, even if the end result isn’t exactly that hard to guess, I’m still glad Dennard managed to keep a few other things, like the motive behind the outbreak of undead, hidden up her sleeve until the last moment. Still, a few misdirects turned out to be great fake outs yet at the same time pretty unsatisfying hanging plot threads – the whole situation with Clarence for example – and I just kept getting the feeling this sequel seemed almost too short compared to the first book, with a few characters, Jie in particular, acting like Dennard ran out of ideas of things for them to do, so they ended up basically just showing up for old times sake and then being written out of the story. Other parts too, the entire situation in Paris in fact, could’ve been expanded on and just felt like it needed to be less rushed and used more development. Thankfully though, there are still plenty of zombie attacks along with other new supernatural threats, because I for one could always use more zombie on snooty French socialite violence, you know?

In fact, the only thing that really would’ve made this better would be if Daniel were eaten by a horde of the ravenous undead (yeah I really don’t like him). I’m not saying this to incite fangirl wrath, but as I said, I just don’t like things that are shoved in my face, and despite how I feel Dennard has done an awesome job making sure Eleanor falling for the allure of necromancy isn’t shoved in my face, well, she shoves Daniel in my face, and it’s annoying. Even worse, the love triangle with Clarence is still unresolved and until halfway through the story I could’ve sworn I’d be seeing a tetrahedron with Oliver too (thank goodness there aren’t more characters or it’d be some sort of weird multidimensional web thing). And to add insult to injury, even though the other major characters all have fairly defined roles – new guy Oliver as Eleanor’s connection to her dead brother while representing the dangers and unknowns of necromancy, and then Joseph being the safe mentor who just might possibly be holding her back with his caution and dislike of dark magic, with neither of them completely right or wrong and their whole situation as complicated as Eleanor’s conflict over her necromantic powers – then unfortunately there’s Daniel and he’s just no offense the useless love interest who’s only good for making Eleanor doubt herself, and I’m just the kind of guy who finds the designated love interest character a completely uninteresting, irksome cliche… and I just don’t like his character… and somebody needs to be zombie chow… and I should probably stop before this paragraph devolves into a full blown rant of all the gruesome ways Daniel could be offed for the benefit of the story… a little girl with blackened teeth and the fetid rank of decaying flesh gorging on his intestines as they spilled out from a massive gash on his stomach, chewing on them like sausage links… OK I’m stopping now, I promise.

Bottom line though, Something Strange and Deadly was superficial, silly fun that belies a lot of heart, A Darkness Strange and Lovely forgoes the lightness of the first book but is still quite enjoyable in its own way. Now if only the zombie horde had claimed one more victim before all’s good and done…

Go to Mitch’s review on Goodreads.

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