Review: Something Strange and Deadly by Susan Dennard

review         book

I'll Meet You Theretitle: Something Strange and Deadly
author: Susan Dennard
pages: 388
format: Hardcover
isbn/asin: 978-0062083265
buy it: Amazon | B&N | Goodreads
rating: 5/5 (from hated to loved) or 9/10 (all books I've ever read)
recommended for: For sure fans of Cat Winters (In the Shadow of Blackbirds, A Cure for Dreaming).  You'll find as much paranormal flair, romance, and feminism with a bit more adventure and terror.  Ditto The Dark Unwinding by Sharon Cameron, or anything Steampunk.
There's something strange and deadly loose in Philadelphia. . . .

Eleanor Fitt has a lot to worry about.

Her brother has gone missing, her family has fallen on hard times, and her mother is determined to marry her off to any rich young man who walks by. But this is nothing compared to what she's just read in the newspaper:

The Dead are rising in Philadelphia.

And then, in a frightening attack, a zombie delivers a letter to Eleanor . . . from her brother.

Whoever is controlling the Dead army has taken her brother as well. If Eleanor is going to find him, she'll have to venture into the lab of the notorious Spirit-Hunters, who protect the city from supernatural forces. But as Eleanor spends more time with the Spirit-Hunters, including the maddeningly stubborn yet handsome Daniel, the situation becomes dire. And now, not only is her reputation on the line, but her very life may hang in the balance.

in short

For some reason, I waited a long time to read this.  I acquired a copy from Sue at a signing she did with Sarah Maas over a year ago.  Perhaps I worried that my love of Susan would be at odds with the book.  A ridiculous worry!  Something Strange and Deadly is a novel kindred to my soul: bizarre, eclectic, and fancifully dark.  It's also wickedly smart.  Eleanor Fitt is the finicky, unconventional, clever heroine I've been waiting for.  She's not very strong.  She has no secret talents, other than a quick tongue and steel will.  When her mother's fake seance raises an actual spirit, she ignores the protests of the nonbelievers and seeks out the Spirit Hunters, three misfits trained in the supernatural.  Suddenly, she's caught in a game of many players, a game so much deeper than the raising of a mere few zombies.  The intricate plot kept me rapt until the very end, when the only consolation was that I didn't have to say goodbye to the characters: I already owned the sequel.  

Seriously, I can't gush enough about this novel.  I'm plotting fan art as we speak. 

in depth

it's a supernatural zombie novel
You've never met a zombie novel like this.  Don't think World War Z.  Think Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, only infested with the dead on purpose.  Zombies can become trope-y and overdone easily.  Dennard avoids this with an interesting mix of tongue-in-cheek and magic in her approach.  The very first lines of the book involve Eleanor blandly commenting on the fact that another Dead was spotted in the city today.  Ho hum.  It's more Dead lately than usual, but there are always one or two around.  That alone sets up this other Earth as a special kind of place.  Even better, Dennard digs into old-world superstition and voodoo to gives her zombies more of a mysterious historical authenticity than a Hollywood lurch.  

that's also a period romance.
Speaking of historical, our zombie novel is set in Philadelphia.  In the 1800s.  Dennard has said before that she felt nervous about mixing so many genres.  It damn well works.  She proved well before Cat Winters that the Victorians are the perfect subjects on which to foist a supernatural mystery.  The Victorians themselves set it up, with their seances, hypnotists, and memento mori.  Dennard crafts a believable Victorian America where the superstitions of an older time happen to be real.  She gives Eleanor a bit more spunk than the tame Victorian lass, but doesn't give her 100% modern values, which I appreciate.  She also threads through a romance that adds tension to the already exciting plot, rather than dominating it.  It's my favorite kind of love-hate, where both feelings are believable and the transition is natural.  

our ragtag gang is Philadelphia's only hope against the Dead,
Our stars in this mismatched novel are misfits themselves, and perfect for it.  Eleanor spoke to me immediately.  We both share a certain snobbishness that we don't like to admit, a quiet cleverness, a feeling of invisibility, and an insatiable curiosity.  Of course, she's a little braver, rushing off to fight zombies as she does.  Next in my heart is Daniel Sheridan.  Swoon.  Seriously, though, his gruffness and sarcasm, mixed with insecurity about his lowborn roots, mixed with a brilliant inventor's mind--are you in love yet?  Good.  (Except he's mine, so no touchies.)  Joseph is our fashionable, fearless leader, while Jie is a straight up badass who bows to no one.  Don't forget the supporting cast!  Eleanor's mother is a bit bland, but our potential villains are very well-drawn, particularly our necromancer.  However, I can't fully gush over this person, or I'll say too much!   

but they have more on their hands than a necromancer.
There are so many twists and turns to this plot, so many layers.  At first, Eleanor is simply dealing with the matter of an intrusive spirit haunting her apartment.  Suddenly, zombies are proliferating across Philadelphia, and the politicians are too concerned with the tourists and the World's Fair to take a firm stance.  Eleanor finds herself entangled with the Spirit Hunters, slaying as many Dead as they can until the necromancer is found.  Then, there's the strangeness of the well-mannered, wealthy Clarence Wilcox coming to court--but his motives seem darker than marriage, connected to family secrets long buried.  There's also the matter of Eleanor's brother Elijah, who is missing and may very well be in the necromancer's clutches.  

in this rich, atmospheric novel,
All this would be enough, but you must add to it Susan's gorgeous writing.  She's masterful with a turn of phrase, authentically Victorian in flavor without being dense or overly flowery.  Her descriptions are brilliant.  She sets a scene, and you're there.  You feel it, live it.  The overtone is Eleanor's own voice, with all her snarky inner monologues.  It's just perfect for this kind of book; the writing and plot support each other.  Not to mention, parts of it are so dryly hysterical that I read them a few times over.  Oh, dear Daniel.  

everything is stranger and more deadly than it appears.
If you think you understand this novel, table that thought until you read it.  Dennard takes every one of your expectations to a grander, more thrilling limit than you could imagine.  Her tale has the sweep of something epic, with a consistent darkness that chills and entices.  

in a sentence

Something Strange and Deadly is a smart, wickedly funny adventure.  It seamlessly blends genres into one wholly thrilling, chilling, romantic tale.  


  • 5/5  (on a scale from hated to loved) 
  • 9/10  (against everything I've ever read)
  • will i read this author again?  GIVE ME MORE NOW.
  • will i continue the series?  Finished it in about two weeks. And only because I had to wait for the third to be mailed. 

Note: I purchased this copy. The price of the book and its origin in no way affected by stated opinions.


  1. I still haven't read this one either! I thought I was the only one! I was initially put-off because I'm not much of a zombie fan, until I learned that it wasn't the usual kind of zombies, which put my mind at ease and made me add it to my tbr/wishlist. So, naturally, I was excited when I saw your review for it^^ I love how you described the plot, the mixture of different genres, the characters and the romance. Not to mention how you plowed through the series in no time flat :D Awesome review^^ x

    1. It is SO not your typical zombie novel. Aw, shucks, thanks! (Yes, I said "shucks.") This was one of those that I HAD to read back to back. I hope you love it!

  2. I can't believe I missed this review when you first posted it! The review is amazing; I think I might read the book after all, though I'm not usually overly fond of books set in the past. Your bookish recommendations have always given me something awesome to read and I don't think that's about to change. :)

    1. Thank you! :D YAY I love when I convince people! I promise, you won't be disappointed. The historical setting just makes the fantasy stuff even cooler. :D

  3. I picked this one up just late last year, I have not finished the series yet though, it is on my to-do list! I agree, I think it is such a well done blend of everything. The historical aspects with the zombies while still having great characters!

    1. The last book is mind-blowing. I fully agree!

  4. Dead army and snarkiness? Count me in! I have not heard of this author but I'm marking the series on my Goodreads to get. Thanks for the review.

  5. I haven't read this series yet, but I'm planning on reading it soon. I mean I need something of hers to read while I wait for TRUTHWITCH! Your review just made me move it up higher on my TBR list :) I haven't read a zombie book before, so it'll be something new to try. And as for your comments on Daniel Sheridan, he sounds like he'll make a good book boyfriend! :)

    1. I hope you love it! It'll definitely fill the Truthwitch gap. Sooz's writing is just SO breathtaking. And, oh, Daniel... <3

  6. I've only just recently heard of Susan Dennard and am most definitely curious about this set of books! I had no idea they were steampunk and now I am even more intrigued! Must get my hands on these, this sounds so good!

    1. They're a little lighter on the tech than some steampunks, but they're definitely in that vein. I hope you enjoy them! Come back and tell me what you think. (:

  7. Def need to read this now! Ty! :D
    Mary Loki