Book Review: Strange and Ever After by Susan Dennard

Posted December 28, 2014 by Renae // 0 Comments

Book Review: Strange and Ever After by Susan Dennard

Title: Strange and Ever After (Something Strange and Deadly #3)
Author: Susan Dennard
Release Date: July 22, 2014
Publisher: HarperTeen

Summary from Goodreads:

He took her brother, he took her mother, and now, Marcus has taken her good friend Jie. With more determination than ever to bring this sinister man to justice, Eleanor heads to the hot desert streets of nineteenth-century Egypt in hopes of ending this nightmare. But in addition to her increasingly tense relationships with Daniel, Joseph, and her demon, Oliver, Eleanor must also deal with her former friend, Allison, who has curiously entangled herself in Eleanor’s mission.

With the rising dead chomping at her every move and Jie’s life hanging in the balance, Eleanor is convinced that her black magic will see her through to the bitter end. But there will be a price. Though she and the Spirit Hunters have weathered every battle thus far, there will be consequences to suffer this time—the effects of which will be irreversible. And when it’s over, only some will be able to live a strange and ever after.

While there were a few aspects I didn’t like, I must say that, overall, Strange and Ever After is a satisfying finale to Susan Dennard’s trilogy. It was neither the worst nor the best of the series, but rather a solid conclusion that wrapped everything up satisfactorily—and surprised me a bit, which doesn’t happen too often. (I appreciate authors who kill their main characters and keep them dead.)

Strange and Ever After builds off of the themes that were introduced in the previous book. Eleanor is a necromancer whose magic seems to be alienating her from everyone she cares about. Also, Marcus the demon is here and it’s time for the final showdown, which Eleanor is pretty convinced she’s not ready for. She discovers that revenge isn’t really healthy and so maybe she’ll have to let go of it, and there’s sort of a love triangle, which I was convinced wasn’t going to be a thing since Oliver loved her dead brother, but I guess Oliver loves Eleanor too, and of course, Eleanor and Daniel are a thing, and…a lot went on in this book. Not in a rushed way, but Dennard definitely had a lot of balls up in the air.

In terms of Eleanor, I’m not sure how I felt about her here. I didn’t care for her too much in book 1, liked her a lot in book 2, and was just confused by her in book 3. Susan Dennard did a great job turning Eleanor into a strong, complex character up to this point, but Strange and Ever After went a bit too far—or not far enough. The was a lot of emotional see-sawing that happened inside the narration, which wasn’t a problem—it made sense that Eleanor would be conflicted, but the variations in her mood and motivations didn’t make sense to me. I was constantly unclear as to her train of thought, or why she felt the way she did. I felt like there was a lot of subtext that went unexplained, and as a result I had trouble following Eleanor’s actions because I wasn’t entirely clear on her motivations, whatever they might be. Another area I had trouble with was how Dennard allowed her protagonist to become a snobby special snowflake at times, which never happened before Strange and Ever After Eleanor was always “different”, but now that “differentness” because a cause for Eleanor to ridicule other girls who were more traditional. I really do not understand why, in 2014, girl-on-girl hate is still so prevalent in YA. Why are terms like “like a girl” and “girly” insults? Eleanor’s “I’m not like other girls” attitude really began to grate in this book, and when she started hating on other women because they liked dresses and flirting, I began to lose a lot of respect for her. Women are faceted, varied human beings; one set of interests is not inherently better than another.

I think, looking back, that the majority of my problems with Strange and Ever After can be traced back to Eleanor and the seeming inconsistency of her characterization. I thought that the plot and writing in this book were actually just as strong as they ever were, and the novel was still entertaining and fast-paced enough to keep me interested.

My favorite part of the book was, without a doubt, the ending. Strange and Ever After took risks and went places most YA novels don’t go, and I think it paid off for Dennard here. I know that I’m going to remember this series more because of how it ended, in a way I wouldn’t have if the author had gone the safer, more traditional route.

I’ve had some issues with this series over the course of its three books, but I think it was still a worthwhile reading experience. Susan Dennard crafts imaginative, engrossing stories that I have no trouble following along with. Strange and Ever After was a strong finale to a well-written trilogy, and in spite of a few issues, I did like this book.

Renae has written book reviews and other miscellany for Respiring Thoughts since 2012. She loves dogs, Mexican food, mountains, Shakespeare, and procrastinating. She's currently working on an undergrad degree in English/Spanish lit in the Midwest. Connect with Renae on Twitter, Goodreads, and Tumblr.

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