Author: Susan Dennard
Genre: YA, alternate history/parallel universes, zombies, steampunk, paranormal
Publication Date: July 23, 2013 (HarperTeen – North America)
Source: Publisher-provided ARC
Summary: Following an all-out battle with the walking Dead, the Spirit Hunters have fled Philadelphia, leaving Eleanor alone to cope with the devastating aftermath. But there’s more trouble ahead—the evil necromancer Marcus has returned, and his diabolical advances have Eleanor escaping to Paris to seek the help of Joseph, Jie, and the infuriatingly handsome Daniel once again. When she arrives, however, she finds a whole new darkness lurking in this City of Light. As harrowing events unfold, Eleanor is forced to make a deadly decision that will mean life or death for everyone.
☆: 4.5/5 stars – a sequel that shines brighter than its first book!
Review: I think I can honestly say that this sequel(and what looks to be a middle book in a trilogy?) is stronger than its initial first book in this series. Seriously. “Strange and Lovely” builds upon everything set up in book one, but it also has a lot more tension (almost tension on every page), and we get more worldbuilding, more new awesome characters, and a sea change in everyone we got to know in love back in book one. If you’re looking for one of the best sophomoric efforts this year in YA, look no further than “A Darkness Strange and Lovely”.
Where to start? There was so much in this book that I loved more than in book one. This book is a lot darker, there’s a lot more tension, and does have some thinly-veiled references to addiction (which I thought was a very interesting addition to this series) – all of which ties in rather nicely with the “criminal element” conclusion drawn by everyone else but Eleanor in book one. This time it’s Eleanor’s turn to become drawn in by darkness, on the hunt for the angry ghost/ex-necromancer (? that’s not quite entirely made clear in this book, though it’s implied rather heavily) that wears her brother’s body taking her all the way to the City of Lights, Paris. I thought it a rather nice role-reversal from how Eleanor was in the first book – this book is about the loss of innocence, the refusal of happy ignorance, and revenge.
And I loved pretty much all of it.
The only caveat: there were some pacing issues that did bog things down – it was a bit uneven in the middle area where Eleanor was trying to adjust to live in Paris, trying to hide her new extracurricular activities, and trying to hide a certain awesome new demon from the Spirit-Hunters. I can’t really pinpoint it, other than it just dragged in those certain places (certainly in the areas where she keeps waking up with no memory of the night before – that made things drag a bit). Since I read an ARC, I’m really hoping that was an editing issue, and hoping it’ll be fixed in the finished copy.
My favorite new character: Oliver. I love how he was humanized repeatedly by Dennard, especially when talking about Elijah, and we also get a hint about his sexuality (and Elijah’s sexuality) all in one fell swoop, though the latter is a blink and you miss it moment. We find out what demons are in Dennard’s world, and how the spirit world works in the grand scheme of things (as in, is it the final stop in the afterlife). Luckily there isn’t too much infodumping – I thought all of the infodumps were rather nicely spaced on the whole throughout the book, and most of them came from Ollie himself. Jie continues her genderqueering of female social norms at the time, which I loved, though I feel like we didn’t see as much as we could have of her. Though that does get explained by Dennard through one of the new characters towards the conclusion of this volume in the series.
The characters definitely help build the world – not only through the relationship web school of worldbuilding that Dennard was playing with in this volume – and Eleanor’s dark journey through self-blame, hatred, and indulgence in certain magical activities certain Spirit-Hunters would kill her for is one of the biggest worldbuilders of all. We do get a lot of backstory from Ollie, but we also get a lot of it through Eleanor’s flashbacks and hazy hallucinatory moments that happen so frequently throughout this book. We also get more about the Daniel-Joseph-Clarence love rhombus that was kind of resolved in book one, but definitely gets more resolved in this book. Mainly, this one is about Eleanor dealing with the aftermath of book one, and her turn toward darkness is how she copes. Which, when looking at other early reviews, is what I think threw a lot of readers/reviewers off because it wasn’t like the Eleanor we grew to love in book one. This Eleanor is uglier, more injured, and more in need of healing and love than ever. And how she gets it? That’s where the addiction part comes in. I won’t explain any further – you’ll have to read it yourself. It’s always a risk to have such a major personality change from book one to two, but I applaud Dennard for having the balls to do it because it really, really emotionally paid off.
Final verdict? Dennard really surprised me with how much she grew in her craft with this book, and I definitely love it more than the first. Now I definitely can’t wait for book 3! “A Darkness Strange and Lovely” is out now from HarperTeen in North America, so definitely check it out when you get the chance! It’s made my best of 2013 list for a reason, guys.