Sixteen-year-old Eleanor Fitt’s brother is missing. And when she discovers that the Dead are rising in Philadelphia and wreaking havoc throughout the city, she knows that her brother is involved.
So Eleanor enlists the help of the Spirit-Hunters. This motley crew, hired to protect the city from supernatural forces, is after the necromancer who has been reanimating corpses. Their skills can save her brother. But as Eleanor spends time with the Spirit-Hunters, and their handsome inventor, Daniel, the situation becomes dire. Now not only is her reputation at risk, but her very life may hang in the balance.
In Something Strange and Deadly, the first book in a trilogy, Susan Dennard weaves together vividly imagined scenes of action, adventure, and gorgeous Victorian fashion to create an entertaining steampunk tapestry of humor, horror, and romance. Readers who love Cassandra Clare’s Infernal Devices series will be intrigued from the start.
In Victorian-era Philadelphia, 16-year-old Eleanor Fitt worries more about "hungry and dangerous" reanimated corpses than about parasols and corsets. In this first book in a trilogy, debut author Dennard deftly weaves together a vast plot involving social status, spirits, zombies, necromancy, romance, and pseudoscience. Eleanor's brother, Elijah, never returns home from New York City, instead sending a cryptic letter ripe for deciphering. As the dead rise and acquaintances are murdered, Eleanor fears for Elijah's life. Looking for answers, she sneaks off to find the Spirit-Hunters, a group of eccentric teenagers, at the 1876 International Centennial Exhibition. Meanwhile, Eleanor's mother is trying to marry her off to wealthy and connected Clarence Wilcox, but feisty Eleanor can't shake her nagging feelings about him or about a ragtag Spirit-Hunter genius named Daniel. In a swirling, rib-tickling story, Eleanor displays both good sense and the bravery to fight evil and remain free from the tyranny of high society. Blending historical fiction, horror, romance, and mystery, Dennard creates a roaring and addictive gothic world. Ages 13 up.
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When I first read Something Strange and Deadly, it acted as a re-introduction to the steampunk genre. Beforehand, I’d only read a few steampunk-themed books and it’d been a few years. I was not let down. The writing is entirely compelling, the majority of chapters ending on a cliffhanger (you can’t help but think, ‘one more chapter, just one more’) and our protagonist, Eleanor Fitt is brilliantly witty! In an alternate 1876 Philadelphia where the Dead have risen, deadly villains and strange heroes leave nothing but an entertaining debut novel.
Our main cast of characters are introduced in the first few chapters, though some are more of a foreshadowing (if you’re picking up on these breadcrumbs). We also get a very good look at the relationship between Eleanor and her mother, Abigail Fitt. SS&D is written in first POV, so the reader learns two sides of Eleanor. There’s the very outgoing side that couldn’t care less (or understand) about high society and the other which most people see, complying with her mother’s wishes. Eleanor’s mother on the other hand very much cares about fitting in and carrying on with the latest trends. She’s also set her mind on marrying Eleanor off to an eligible bachelor and in turn saving their family name and fortune.
This high society is all about wearing a mask. Eleanor tries to act like a lady, but sometimes her real self comes out (more so around Daniel). Her mother also wears a mask by trying to hide the misfortune of the Philadelphia Fitts. When this mask comes off, the reader experiences the raw emotion these characters are hiding. For example, two of Eleanor’s ‘friends’ Mercy and Patience remove their mask after seeing Eleanor with Clarence Wilcox, a very rich and eligible bachelor. That moment is pretty scary for her.
Then Eleanor meets the Spirit Hunters, Joseph-Alexandre Boyer, Daniel Sheridan and Jie. She’s able to break out of her shell and really grow as a character. It’s great being inside Eleanor’s head because while she’s a very likeable and humour-filled character, she does have her imperfections. Eleanor realizes along this adventure she’ll need to make a choice about who she wants to be.
While on the search for her missing brother Elijah, the necromancer is leaving a trail of dead bodies and Eleanor fears her brother is his next victim. To add, her mother let out an evil spirit during a séance gone wrong. Like a good mystery, Dennard leaves hints for her brave heroine, but also like a good mystery these clues can point in an entirely different direction.
Daniel Sheridan. Both attractive and infuriating, Eleanor and him can’t help arguing in their first encounter. As Eleanor allies with the Spirit Hunters, I found the two to make a great team (although they don’t realize it right away). Eleanor’s real self comes out around Daniel, and he himself reveals secrets of his own. It was also amusing watching Eleanor develop a crush on Daniel, but not necessarily be aware of it. She’d observe little details about him and then scold herself for such behaviour.
SS&D is full of plot twists! There’s a particular character who played their role very well, so well I didn’t see it coming. I won’t reveal their name as it might be a spoiler. What’s more, it was fascinating to read Dennard’s twist on other developments/events. For example, jingling bells are placed in a casket to warn the town against the risen Dead (pg 119). In the real world, measures like these were taken incase people were accidentally buried alive. I felt having little things like this really helped me connect with this alternate world and make it all the more real.
With murder and voodoo magic lining the pages, Something Strange and Deadly captivates readers through incredible characters and shocking revelations. Despite danger at every corner, I wouldn’t mind joining Eleanor and the Spirit Hunters! They have a lot of unimaginable adventures ahead of them.