Something Strange and Deadly
Eleanor would do anything for her dear older brother Elijah, including fighting an evil necromancer who is awakening the dead in late 19th-century Philadelphia. To help rescue her brother, Eleanor seeks the aid of three Spirit Hunters: Joseph, a trim and proper looking Creole; Jie, a trouser-wearing China-woman; and Daniel, a frustratingly handsome inventor. While Eleanor sneaks out to battle the dead and uncover the necromancer’s power and motivation, Eleanor’s mother schedules her for croquet parties and nights at the opera with Clarence, a rich and handsome bachelor who seems to be hiding secrets of his own.
Something Strange and Deadly is a fun, fast-paced, steampunk thriller. The characters of Daniel and Clarence create a nice romantic tension, complicated by the fact that we know neither is completely what he seems. Although some elements hidden from Eleanor are easily seen by the reader, other mysteries unfurl with more difficulty. Dennard gives explanations for everything (which I really like): what motivates the characters (both good and bad), how the dead can be made to walk, why the dead are sometimes hungry and sometimes not, how an amethyst earring can control a spirit, and how standing in water can magnify power. The mix of true and imagined technology, and the wonderful historic details of the Philadelphia setting, including the Centennial Exposition, all give a feel of reality to this obvious fantasy.
Although the ending solves all of the mysteries, loose ends are left untied. I predict a sequel in which Eleanor once again must battle the dead, possibly to save the one she loves.