Dearly, Departed (Dearly #1)

Dearly, DepartedBy Lia Habel

Publisher: Random House
Publication Date: October 25, 2011
Genre: Young Adult Steampunk
Source: Publisher

Love can never die.

Love conquers all, so they say. But can Cupid’s arrow pierce the hearts of the living and the dead—or rather, the undead? Can a proper young Victorian lady find true love in the arms of a dashing zombie?

The year is 2195. The place is New Victoria—a high-tech nation modeled on the manners, mores, and fashions of an antique era. A teenager in high society, Nora Dearly is far more interested in military history and her country’s political unrest than in tea parties and debutante balls. But after her beloved parents die, Nora is left at the mercy of her domineering aunt, a social-climbing spendthrift who has squandered the family fortune and now plans to marry her niece off for money. For Nora, no fate could be more horrible—until she’s nearly kidnapped by an army of walking corpses.

But fate is just getting started with Nora. Catapulted from her world of drawing-room civility, she’s suddenly gunning down ravenous zombies alongside mysterious black-clad commandos and confronting “The Laz,” a fatal virus that raises the dead—and hell along with them. Hardly ideal circumstances. Then Nora meets Bram Griswold, a young soldier who is brave, handsome, noble . . . and dead. But as is the case with the rest of his special undead unit, luck and modern science have enabled Bram to hold on to his mind, his manners, and his body parts. And when his bond of trust with Nora turns to tenderness, there’s no turning back. Eventually, they know, the disease will win, separating the star-crossed lovers forever. But until then, beating or not, their hearts will have what they desire.

Goodreads Summary

Nora Dearly is in a lot of trouble. She’s home on break from her fancy private school when her house is attacked. She’s rescued by something worse – real, dead zombies! Hauled off to their ship for her protection, she finds out some hard truths about her father, the origins of these undead soldiers around her and the real reason there’s unrest right now between the Punks and New Victoria.

Nora decides to trust the soldiers – especially the gallant, remarkable Bram – and help them at the border, but their two-faced senior officer has been scheming all along to bring war right to their doorstep.

You know, this may be the first time I’ve read a book where the zombies weren’t throwing themselves against the mall doors or something equally mindless. These are smart zombies for a smart, stylish book – I really liked this, it’s going on my favorites list for the year.

Habel picked a brilliant way to tell – I didn’t need or want to be shown – how this post-apocalyptic world came about. Nora’s writing a history paper and narrating it, a streamlined tale of the weather conditions, the wars and the survivors. So we get the history of New Victoria and a version of how the Punks evolved from her “side’s” perspective and the rest of the time spent talking about her world can be about the descriptions without rehashing it. I’ve lost track of how many dystopians I’ve read where the story of how the societies came to be were so mixed in with the descriptions and field of characters that I ended up needing a flow chart.

The story is told from a number of first-person POV – Nora, Bram, Nora’s father Victor, Pamela and Wolfe. Each character has a strong voice and their chapters are labeled. There are a lot of stories going on at once and it was a great choice to stick with first-person narration, even though it meant jumping around heads.

The Dearly of the title would be Nora Dearly, who I just loved. She’s a warrior princess – little inside joke from the story – who loves to watch old war videos and shoot guns. And like all warrior princesses, when she first gets a load of a bunch of zombies, she screams her head off and locks herself in a room for days before dusting off her big girl panties, strapping on a couple of guns and deciding to help them kill the bad zombies. She was loyal to her friend Pamela, terrifically bitchy to her rotten aunt and was just normal enough to occasionally look at her new zombie friends and get grossed out. Snark – she needed more snark and a love for chocolate and she’d have been perfection.

Bram kept reminding me of a character that I’d read and loved before. He plays a sort of doomed young lover, determined to do anything to save the woman he cares about. He’s sweet and charming and he’s taking a load of garbage from his boss for her – both because he cares about her and because it doesn’t matter because he’s come to expect that he’s expendable and because he knows he’s got a limited shelf life. It didn’t even matter what he physically looked like, his personality was beautiful and his story of how he originally died was so sad.

The supporting characters were all equally bright and interesting. Fortunately this is a longer book (471 pages in my hard copy) and there’s lots of space for them to develop. Nora’s friend Pamela is one of the lower-class citizens of New Victoria and her view during the book offers a good look at the snobbery there. Wolfe is Bram’s senior officer and utterly nutters and there are a completely hilarious group of zombies in Bram’s company. Between the rocking wild child who’s getting it on with one of the other zombies to the one who keeps wedging foam in the socket so his one eye won’t keep falling out, they’re so brilliant.

Nora and Bram’s love story is sweet and believable, if a little potentially physically confusing. It helps that her father is sort of a bridge between them and I love that this is going to be a series. It ended in a nice place, but there’s room for more.

My Summary: This had all the levels of “just perfect” for me – the steampunk, background, narration, level of violence, romance, mystery, intrigue, action and ending – all were just perfect. If that didn’t make me happy enough, Bram and Nora were great characters with a romance I’m hoping finds a way to succeed. Not only was this a book I picked up and didn’t put down until I finished it, it’s going on my keeper shelf.

My Rating: A




  1. I am reading this now, and I'm enjoying it a lot more than I thought I would! I can't wait to finish it, I just need to know what's going to happen! 🙂 Wonderful review!!

  2. Thank you! I, er, obviously loved it. 🙂 I didn't expect to like it so much either – I'm not really a zombie sort of person but this just was good! And no huge cliffhanger ending which is such a bonus for me.I hope you really enjoy it too, I can't wait to hear what you think!

  3. I'm not a huge fan of zombies or particularly well read in this sub-genre but your review has intrigued me. I did read Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion and thought it was a great take on the zombie theme, so I think I'm going to give Dearly, Departed a try 🙂

  4. I'm really don't do zombie books either – I've avoided the glut of them because they seem a little too dark and just cold but it was pretty easy to forget that these guys were zombies (or "undead"). Habel did such a different thing with them, I thought. I really hope you enjoy it! 🙂

  5. I also read Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion and thought it was a great take on the zombie theme, so I think I'm going to give Dearly, Departed a try

  6. I just read some of the reviews of Warm Bodies and it looks like something I really want to try. Romeo and Juliet zombie style? Thank you for mentioning it, I'd have never even looked for that one, I generally skip over most zombie books – this was sort of an anomaly. Do try this, I think you might like it if you liked Warm Bodies, judging from the reviews.

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