Khanh the Killjoy

Something Strange and Deadly - Susan Dennard
She rubbed the bald half of her head. “In China we say, ‘The girl with the full hair is not as free as the girl with the bare head.’"

“It means that as long as I still shave my hair, I’m free. See, in China, girls keep their heads bald like the boys, yeah? Then when we’re the age to become a woman, we bind our feet and grow out our hair.


If I had to choose one word to describe this book, it would be unconvincing. If you want terrifying zombie action, turn away now, the zombies in this book are not dangerous, they are corpses, but they're of the "first episode of Walking Dead" sort of boring, which is to say they're rotting, they're shambling, they smell REALLY, REALLY bad, but they're completely unterrifying in every way. I feel like I could walk around with a sharp stick and kill a bunch myself because they were so unconvincing as objects of abject terror.

This book is strange, but it doesn't make a whole lot of sense. The world building is weird and incomplete. This book thinks itself a "steampunk" novel. It's not. The setting and the characters's behaviors are inconsistent. The characters themselves are two-dimensional. Flat. It was a wholly implausible book, and I'm not talking about the fact that the dead are rising in 1876 Philadelphia.

The Setting: Yawn.

1. Zombies? Oh, posh! We must attend the opera!: This book is about Eleanor Fitts (Miss Fitt, misfit...ha...ha...yeah, we fucking get it, Eleanor), a 16-year old girl living in 1876 Philadelphia, where the dead have begun rising from their grave. Her beloved older brother, Elijah, is missing.

The setting in this book is not steampunk so much as "Huh?" Yeah, sure, the zombies are rising, but it was entirely unclear whether they had, in fact, existed in the past or not, or if this is an entirely new phenomenon.

The fact that there are zombies rising up from their graves and terrorizing the whole of Philadelphia was made completely underwhelming. There was no danger in it. The zombies are called "walking dead," like the ones in the show of the same name, but with so little urgency and panic that they became completely redundant and dull. It's of the "Oh, pish, posh! Zombies again?! How completely inconvenient because they're going to ruin our tea party!" sort of catastrophe, which is to say, none at all.

I shrank back, fighting the urge to run past her through the open door. “Th-the walking corpses,” I stammered. “The ones people have been talking about. One came to the train depot, so everyone was evacuated.”
“And what of our party tonight?” Mama insisted. “What am I to do?”
“We could cancel,” I said hopefully.
She snorted. “Of course we cannot cancel. The walking Dead must have addled your brain, Eleanor. This is our first party in years.

Oh, yes, such danger. Such excitement. The dead are rising. The dead are going to eat us alive. Yippee. Oh, save us, our Lord in Heaven.

I am utterly terrified.


2. Steampunk? More like pure bunk: It is 1876 Philadelphia. That's all. There is no technology beyond that of the times. There is no elements of steampunk. There is no machinery. There is no advanced mechanical inventions. it is 1876 Philadelphia, no more, no less. The book itself presents no sense of time; I did not feel like I was immersed in the past at all. This has very much to do with the fact that the main character was so inconsistent.

3. Abracadabra!: The magic in this book is more showing, than telling. If you are going to incorporate magic into a book, I expect an explanation of how it works, I don't want vague-as-fuck phrases like "spiritual energy" thrown around without much of an explanation. There are souls, there are electric energy associated with souls. Like what? It was very inadequately explained, and I was unsatisfied with the explanation.

4. Where's Your Motherfucking Chaperone?!: Eleanor is 16. She is an upper-middle-class young woman. Her reputation is on the line. She needs to make a good marriage. SO WHY THE FUCK IS SHE WANDERING AROUND DOING WHATEVER THE FUCK SHE WANTS?! Eleanor has a mother. Her mother only has Eleanor. Why is she not keeping a closer eye on her?! She sneaks off from a tea party to look for guys. Eleanor sneaks out of the opera house (leaving her date) wearing a motherfucking BALL gown to go investigate the undead!!!

I raced through the now-empty main hall. My footsteps echoed off the marble tiles. The porters at the front doors exchanged shocked glances. I could imagine the sight I must have presented—a flushed ball of purple silk and rustling skirts. No matter. I whisked past them and flew out into the Philadelphia night.

Eleanor, the Inconsistent: Eleanor is an well-born young woman. She doesn't act like it. Eleanor behaves as if she has a stick firmly wegded up her ass in one moment, and acts like a modern woman in the next.

1. I Must Politely Tell You That I Need To Use the Toilet: *sigh* Bodily functions were simply not mentioned in the 19th century. Eleanor is gently raised. She should know that, and yet she feels the need to KEEP TELLING MEN THAT SHE NEEDS TO USE THE TOILET. (called the "necessary")

“I... I need to use the necessary. Perhaps I can meet you in the Hydraulic Annex?”
Clarence’s lips quirked up slightly. “Yes, all right. Use the water closet and then meet me in the annex.”

Aaaand yet again, to someone she hardly knows.

“I must go to the necessary,” I murmured to Clarence, but he didn’t budge.
I turned to the squat Pinkerton. “I must go to the necessary.”

2. How Dare You Speak To Me Without a Very Proper Introduction: Eleanor's manners are all over the fucking place. In one moment, she's sneaking off to meet men. In a very private place. Actually, she does that repeatedly throughout the book. In another moment, she is shocked, SHOCKED, that he dares violate etiquette by SHAKING HER HAND! Oh, my pearls!

A gentleman simply was not supposed to shake the hand of an unmarried woman without a proper, third-party introduction. I was so used to chaperoned meetings that I had acted on foolish reflex.

2. I Am A Lady, You Motherfucker: For a well-born lady, she sure curses a lot, and she's pretty free with her insults. She'll "be damned," this, he's a "bastard." Eleanor's speech may be archaic to fit the time, but she is completely inconsistent otherwise.

3. Purring Is For Kittens:

I took a weary breath, lifted my hands, and purred, “I’m truly sorry, sir.”
He wrinkled his nose. “Why are you talking like that?”
“Like what?”
“Like you’re a kitten.

What the fuck?! Since when did "purring" mean an actual purring sound when it comes to human voices? It is a figure of speech, for fuck's sakes. Yeah, I know I'm nitpicky. It's stupid little details like this that ruin a book for me.

4. Was I Supposed To Save My Brother? Oh, right. My Beloved Brother: Way to go completely fucking off track. Way to lose sight of your actual mission. Eleanor has an actual mission: She's supposed to try to find and save her best friend, her beloved older brother. Only she completely forgets about him.

I had wasted time worrying over Daniel and Clarence, playing on the croquet course, and arguing with Mama. I had neglected what was most important: Elijah.


5. Who Cares About Money, Anyway: Eleanor is selfish. She hates her mother---who is an overbbearing Mrs. Darcy sort, but who is well-intentioned.

Eleanor and her mother is about to lose their home. They are out of money. Her mother needs Eleanor to be a success so that they can keep a roof over their heads.

Eleanor doesn't seem to think that this is important at all. She thinks her mother is an idiot, she is exasperated at her practicality.

Mama ignored me. “Your father did enough damage to our family’s standing, Eleanor, when he tried to save his company. Your brother only worsened it when he ran off. Without a good reputation, you will not make a suitable match. We will be on the streets soon!”
I opened my eyes and watched her. What an empty shell of a woman she was.

The Romance: A love triangle and a romance that distracts Eleanor more than it should.

What was it about mouths that made them so fascinating? I had read of kisses (Shakespeare was fond of them in his plays), but I’d never seen one. And I’d certainly never experienced one. Did people merely touch lip to lip... or was there more to it?
Has Daniel ever kissed anyone?

There are ZOMBIES. There is a necromancer at large. Stop thinking about his fucking lips.

Overall: A rather dull, wholly inconsistent and unconving book with little sense of danger. You'd be better off reading The Walking Dead comic.