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Nora Dearly lives in the 22nd century in America – at least in what’s left of that. One and a half centuries ago, the world collapsed when one catastrophe followed another and only a few survivors were able to find a new spot to live on. In distorted memory of the Victorian era, they recreated the systems and values of that time and became the “New Victorians”. Those who did not agree with that were banned and went south, now only known as the “Punks”. After many wars, there’s still no peace in sight, but today’s battles are fought by the Victorian army and Punk extremists.
In this world, Nora lives a relatively wealthy, but not an easy life. Both her parents are dead and her aunt’s only aim in life seems to be social advancement. Desperately, she seeks for ways to change her situation, but she would have never thought of being attacked by gruesome, half-rotted figures and being rescued and kidnapped by others of that kind. For years now the government has kept a secret that there’s a new illness creating zombies. Captain Abraham Griswold is one of them, which means he’s dead though not a monster. Nora still has to learn that her prejudices are not necessarily truth. But there are even more surprises waiting for her: people she long thought dead might come back to her – if the zombies terrorizing her city don’t infect everybody, that is.
Zombies in a romantic Young Adult novel? This sounds kind of crazy, but what about “zombies as love-interest in a dystopian, romantic Steampunk/Young Adult novel”, then? This might seem contradictory, but believe it or not: it works.
Lia Habel’s novel is set in the future, but because humanity is pretty screwed we chose the Victorian era to glorify and to go back to a time that is even more unjust than our current present. Of course, we couldn’t go on without modern toilets and mobile phones after all and with nice projections that let us see fake trees in the landscape and nice façades of buildings that aren’t there, things got really weird. Worst is: I can totally believe that people ignored the obvious and stopped thinking logically. So, while young girls play with their mobile phones in carriages, we get to know that there’s an opposition and step by step we realize that with the introduction of zombies, we can also say hello to the horror genre.
This sounds pretty motley and mixed up, and motley it is. But combined with a sometimes old-fashioned then again modern language, all that perfectly fits together. I really enjoyed reading about this world, which doesn’t necessarily mean that I’d choose to live there.
The zombies in this novel only partly resemble the stereotype. Of course, they’re decaying pretty fast, but they’re not all wild monsters roaming the streets and eating the brains of anybody they encounter. It depends on how long it takes them to wake up after their human death – those waking up after just a few seconds are more likely to keep their wits and they’re those who get medical treatment. They’re kept in shape and, if necessary, put together again. That’s why Bram is relatively fit if you ignore his milky eyes and a limp. You think they might stink like corpses? Nah, those guys are cleaner than any human is ever going to be!
So, I really had no problems at all with the love story part; neither with the major one between Bram and Nora nor with the small ones in the background. Bram’s not more horrible than vampires who’re about to bury their teeth in your throat – and really, how many complain about our beloved bloodsuckers? Those zombies are rather tame compared to other supernatural beings, but they add some drama. Not the “I’m going to grow old and die while you stay young” kind, but the “darn, in a few years I’m going to go crazy, because that’s what happens to all zombies eventually, and then you have to shoot me” kind. Instead of annoying everybody by whining constantly about that, which happens way too often, they take their chances and enjoy the time they actually have. Still, they don’t rush things and this is an approach I absolutely adore.
The story itself, unfortunately, is rather slow, too. I’ve always been someone to enjoy a fast-paced story, but I’m not entirely opposed to slow ones. In this case, the tension increases with every chapter, the questions get more urgent and there’s more and more to think about. The end, then, was just plain awesome.
That is not the main reason why I still enjoyed the book so much, though. Responsible for this is the humour. At some point I stopped counting how often I laughed out loud and got used to not being able to stop. The characters and their interactions are just hilarious and I loved that. There’d be Pamela, for example, who is a rather shy girl for several reasons. She doesn’t kick ass very often, but when she does ... well, beware! Of course, there’s not so much to laugh about when Nora’s father and a military man named Wolfe are the narrators of the chapter, but there’s still my favourite zombie dream team. Alternately, we get to know them from Bram’s and Nora’s point of view. Those two and Bram’s team in the zombie army are simply awesome, funny and heart-rending; they all have their stories, their personalities and their problems. They all suffered a lot and still they try to do the best for everybody, constantly risking their lives and non-lives. They’re a crazy group I instantly fell in love with.
Nora, who’s definitely a non-conformist, does the same thing, even though she doesn’t cope too well with the information of zombies exiting at first. But she has always been something like a rebel, so frilled skirts together with deadly weapons suit her well. She’s no all-rounder but an all-tryer.
They all made it impossible for boredom to settle – and I had even more fun with the novel.
Just to sum that up: There’s a scarcely renovated Victorian era in the future, admittedly a slow-paced plot, but instead a lot of sometimes morbid humour shared by a good amount of different but lovable characters, who perfectly entertained me until the great showdown. How can I not love this?