Summary from Goodreads:
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 1876, Eleanor Fitt goes to meet her brother at the train station, but he doesn’t arrive. However, there is someone to greet her their: the Dead. How terribly inconvenient! Nothing like a zombie infestation to ruin one’s high society matrimonial prospects. So Eleanor takes matters into her own hands and embarks on a journey to stop the Dead, find her brother, and save her family from disgraceful poverty—all while wielding a corset and parasol.
Some books are just fun, even if they’re not of the greatest quality. Something Strange and Deadly is one of those books. Dennard’s debut is not exceptionally written and has about zero percent historical accuracy and it tends to be fairly silly, but the adventures of Miss Eleanor Fitt of the Philadelphia Fitts were mostly enjoyable, and I did find enough to like about this book to continue on with the series.
As a protagonist, I wasn’t sure how I felt about Eleanor for much of the book, but by the end I decided I did like her. She showed definite growth over the course of the text, going from a sort of nondescript, silly young woman to an admirable main character. The book’s emphasis on how “different” she was got old, though—Miss Fitt, the misfit. Miss Fitt—get it? Not that I outright love Eleanor—she can be slightly annoying, but not in any problematic way. I think she’s well-developed and entertaining, though slightly anachronistic.
Though, for that matter, I can’t say that Something Strange and Deadly really shines in its portrayal of history. Susan Dennard might be able to craft an entertaining story, but it doesn’t seem like she dedicated much effort by way of research. The book has a few ethnic minority characters (a Chinese woman and a black Cajun) and, well…yeah. That wasn’t super believable at all, nor was Eleanor’s prim and proper mother allowing—no, encouraging—her daughter to go off to the opera unchaperoned with a young gentleman who was not an immediate relative. Though, at the same time, Eleanor was shocked when a young man broke etiquette and shook her hands. This book has a very inconsistent approach to the time period; basically, when it suited the author to be authentic, she did so, but only in a cursory way.
Another problem was the completely underwhelming approach to a zombie horde descending upon Philadelphia. One would expect the good citizens to panic or be up in arms or something, but no. Nobody seemed upset in any way; at best, the zombies were an inconvenience. While there were some fairly good action sequences in the last 100 pages, the zombies were really not very threatening. I was not very impressed with Something Strange and Deadly in that regard.
I did, however, like Dennard’s very pointed subversion of the instalove trope. Don’t get me wrong, there’s still a love triangle present, one that only marginally advanced the plot. Also, romantic scenes tended to happen at inopportune moments, such as when they were running away from the bad guys. And I wasn’t completely sold on the Eleanor’s romance with her eventual love interesting. However, when at the end of the book there was a very adamant, explicit assertion that Eleanor and her man friend did not love each other, I was relieved and, additionally, far more interested to see how that relationship will develop in the future.
Anyone looking for a well-done historical/paranormal novel would do well to skip this—Something Strange and Deadly doesn’t exactly excell where it should, and it doesn’t read like Susan Dennard tried very hard to be serious with her debut. The book is, however, mostly a fun ride. It’s not great, and I definitely won’t be re-reading it, but it made for an entertaining afternoon. I suppose this review is essentially damning with faint praise, but it’s the best I can offer.