I went into this book thinking it was going to be an epic zombie novel. And while there were zombies, this book was so much more than that. It had adventure, mystery, zombies, spirits, a necromancer, Spirit Hunters, and lots of awesome Victorian conventions. And I absolutely loved all of it!
Dennard does a fantastic job building Eleanor's world. When I was reading, I felt like I was completely immersed in a world where the dead wake up and wander the streets. Like this could even have happened. Ok, maybe not in the 1800s we know, but maybe in a parallel universe where the only difference is that the dead have suddenly risen.
Eleanor is one of the best female heroines I've seen in a YA novel in a while. She's independent, smart, brave, and she cares enough about her family that she'll do anything to protect them, even if trying to save them puts her in grave danger. But she's also willing to give up everything she knows to save the world. She also tries to see the best in everyone, and while that can get her into trouble, I don't think it's a terrible trait to have. At least she's optimistic about the people who surround her, instead of being paranoid and distrustful. I loved how she grew over the course of the novel - slowly, but surely. Oh, and I loved, loved, loved the way Dennard uses a play on words with Eleanor's name. I didn't even pick up on it until Eleanor does, and it definitely made me smile. Because it's definitely fitting.
I assumed from the gears in the background and the Victorian dress that the model on the cover wears that this would be set in a steam-punk reality. That isn't entirely wrong, but it's more of just the time period, where technology and steam engines are just starting to become more popular. The incorporation of the Centennial Exhibition was a very nice touch, and I think it's interesting to see how people imagine things like that would have been like.
Without giving too much away, I thought that the way Dennard ties all of the characters and all of the seemingly pointless information and all of the random story lines tied together. It was actually kind of incredible how, at the end, it all just fits into place. It makes me want to read the book again just to see what all I missed on a first read through.
Something Strange and Deadly was definitely one of my favorite books this year. Probably even my second favorite debut, right after Cinder. So, I would rate this a 5/5 and recommend it to anyone who is looking for something completely different. Anyone looking for a really good mystery and/or fans of paranormal/supernatural novels would most likely enjoy this. I also think that fans of Cinder would enjoy Something Strange and Deadly as well, but that might just be my own bias. I really think everyone should pick up this book and read it, because I think there's something in it for everyone. I can't wait to read the next installment!