Dearly, Beloved

Lia Habel
October 2012, Young Adult
Del Rey, $16.99, 496 pages, Amazon ASIN 0345523342
Part of a series

Grade: C-
Sensuality: Kisses

There is a danger to anticipation. It can lead to let down. When you are anxiously awaiting a novel and it turns out to be nothing more than filler, people can get cranky. Very cranky, very quickly. That was the case for me here - I loved the first novel in this series but book two was four hundred pages of nothing with a bit of excitement at the end.

In her last book,Dearly, Departed, Lia Habel created a darkly magical world that is a mix of steam punk, futuristic, Victorian romance and zombies. Circumstances have forced the world to move south of the border. In New London, New Victoria, Nicaragua year of Our Lord 2195 Nora Dearly goes about her daily existence unaware of what makes her special. The world she lives in is high tech - she uses a feathered stylus to do homework on her tablet, rides in an electric carriage (which is driven, not pulled), has email, has a cell phone and lives below ground, in a neighborhood domed by a fake sky. But her dresses are long, she attends high teas and requires a chaperon to be seen anywhere near a boy. Modern technology, meet the Victorian era, rich in eloquent manners, strict social guidelines, ludicrous fashion and the Living Dead. Products of the Lazarus virus, they are the departed who rise once more to roam the Earth. Some, like Nora's boyfriend Bram, rise as the same people they were before. Others rise as mindless beasts, capable of wiping out entire cities through their bite. And did I mention they have a strange desire for human flesh? Nora is the only person in the world immune to this disease. But why?

Nora's father, a doctor and victim to the Laz himself, is less interested in why than in how. Using his daughter's blood, he creates a vaccine. Book one ends with the failure of that vaccine - a new strain of Laz has developed and the vaccine doesn't work on anyone bitten by the mysterious Patient One. As book two begins Patient One is in police custody and the man who caused a zombie uprising is executed. Both facts have the zombie population in something of an uproar; the average zombie undead "life" is only five years long and to many, cutting it short seems unnecessarily cruel. Nora is less interested in either of those facts than she would have been a year ago; she has a boyfriend now and is trying to sneak in time alone with him. Then Bram is called to help with riot control at the medical ships.

No one is quite sure what started the riot, but apparently several humans attacked peaceful zombie protesters and turned them violent. Bram, determined that the zombies won't pay for the humans mistakes, works with his men to make sure all the undead are brought aboard the medical ships. On board these ships are the doctors working on finding a cure or at least a vaccine for the Laz. They also provide special medicines for the undead, helping them stay as intact as possible. As Bram helps to treat the wounded he meets Martira, a girl who heads a large group of zombies known as The Changed. Martira and her group are working towards a peaceful coexistence with the living.

Then we switch view points and learn why that won't be possible anytime soon. A group of aristocratic teens has formed The Murder, a sort of gentlemens club which specializes in killing zombies. They work off a priority list, with zombies who have infected someone in their families topping the list. Unbeknownst to him, Bram makes the top of a list due to a personal vendetta.

The next several hundred pages are the Murder doing something, the Changed doing something, and Bram, Nora, and their friends trying to figure out who is responsible for what. None of it really matters. We look at just about every aspect of each situation from every possible view point to finally arrive at action, which only stirs mild interest by the time it occurs. We are handed big whopping hints about what caused the Laz. Really, these sections could have been written in all caps and that wouldn't have made them more obvious. We spend tons of time with people who are oblivious to the clues. And we figure that we are no closer to the solution that needs to take place: How can the sentient zombies be brought back to life? Can that even happen? Or are Nora and Bram doomed to a really brief love affair? Looks like that will be answered only in book three.

Have I mentioned how tedious and long-winded the passages dealing with all those non-issues were? Because they were. They really, really were.

On the plus side, my love for Bram survived the snooze fest. He is still this amazingly cool, caring guy who is so giving of himself when he could be all doom and gloom about his "fatal" disease. Bram is also practical, brave, and dashing. The author created a fully three dimensional character in Bram. Unfortunately, I found Nora a bit more teenage drama queen this time around. She kept throwing her tiny little self about, trying to get in on the action and helping absolutely no one till the end. At that point, her scenes with Smoke did a nice job of highlighting both her compassionate heart and her intelligence and bravery. When I finished I still found myself caring about what happens to these two in spite of feeling like I had waded through Jell-O just to get anywhere near the end of their story. That is a real tribute to the characters this author has created.

She did a good job on her secondary characters as well. I was fascinated by the back story we got on Samedi and Dr. Chase and curious to see what would happen with the two characters who met towards the end. I am also intrigued by what is going to happen between Pamela and Lopez. The difference in their age and stations make it seem highly unlikely they could ever be a couple. Yet I sensed we might be moving in that direction. It would certainly place Pamela in a position to wreak the vengeance she swore to at the end of the novel, so we'll see.

I would absolutely recommend book one (Dearly, Departed) to readers. It is a fascinating love story set in an intriguing world. I would recommend this novel to readers only on the basis that it contains information we will probably need to understand the conclusion. But was this a good book, a story worth reading just for its own sake? Definetly not.

-- Maggie Boyd

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