Friday, September 30, 2011

Dearly, Departed: Not Your Average Zombie Steam Punk Romance

Don’t let the cover throw you, this isn’t your average paranormal read, nor is it the epic love saga that the back cover leads you to believe. Instead, Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel, is a complex, multi-narrative, futuristic steam punk, war epic, with a dash of romance. Taking place in a future world that is an interesting mesh of Victorian manners, modern conventions, and futuristic technology, this new novel follows the stories of Bram—a young soldier with an unfortunate affliction (he’s a zombie), Nora—a young woman of surprising depth, Dr. Dearly—a underground leader and savior, Pamela Roe—Nora’s best friend, and Bram’s shady Captain, as they fight their way through a war outside of all human comprehension. Is this a zombie book? Well, yes, but it’s also different from any zombie series I have ever read or seen (and I’ve seen a lot), in that these undead are walking, talking, thinking, human beings banded together to keep those other zombies, the unthinking flesh eating hordes, away from the rest of humanity. Also, since the story is told by multiple narrators of varying ages, sex, social standings, and beliefs it avoids falling into the schmaltzy meanderings found in similar young adult books of the genre.

I blazed through this one. It was new and invigorating, something that I’m not finding too much of in the current selection of books. I enjoyed the fact that it was a tale about survival, and while there is an eventual romance, it didn’t take precedence over the plot, allowing character development and a much better image of the world in which these characters reside. Suitable for both guys and girls, thanks mostly in part to the male POV chapters, and slight gore content (very slight), and also multiple ages, author Lia Habel will have a much larger audience to appeal to. I eagerly anticipate the next installment (entitled Dearly, Beloved) in this wholly original new series.

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Thursday, September 1, 2011

Ashes Ashes We All Fall Down

In Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick, 17-year-old Alex, suffering from both the loss of her parents and the ever encroaching presence of an inoperable “monster” of a brain tumor, is thrown inexplicably into a war beyond the imagination. Power is out, people are dropping dead, the monster in her head feels like it exploded, and teens are turning into crazed cannibals. Is it the zombie apocalypse? No, but it might seem like it at first glance.

Bick takes a highly unoriginal topic and manages to make it fresh and compelling. Alex, an experienced backpacker is on the outskirts of civilization (the Michigan Mountains to be exact) when EMP (electro-magnetic pulse) bombs are set off throughout the world. Teamed up with an 8-year-old girl and young soldier fresh out of Afghanistan, Alex must navigate and learn to understand the changed world. Bick uses her past as a former Air Force Major to pepper the narrative with brilliant survival tips, weapons knowledge, and very believable plot elements. At times I even found myself wondering what I own that could survive an EMP. This is the cleverness of Bick’s story, she takes something very possible and turns it into a gut wrenching saga that involves, of all things, zombie-like teenagers eating their way through the handful of people, mostly elderly, who survived the attack. Instead of an all out bloody zombie battle, we only see them about four times, but with each successive sight they seem to be growing smarter, planning, and working together. This first book, in what is to be a trilogy, is more about what has happened and how people are going to try and survive, as opposed to a “World War Z”. It’s subtle and smooth, transitioning ever so carefully toward the set-up that is to come in the last pages. I do have to warn of a cliffhanger ending that is preceded by a very “Village-esque” scenario seen all to often in films and books like The Passage, or The Forest of Hands andTeeth, but the prior 300 pages are so real, and move so swiftly, that it’s difficult to be annoyed by Bick falling into the clich├ęd pit of post-apocalyptic thrillers.
 
So, final verdict: Ashes, great premise, infuriating ending (let’s get that next book rolling out soon please), and all around good read for both teens and adults.


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