DNF Books

Did Not Finish: Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel

Title: Dearly, Departed

Author: Lia Habel

Genre: Dystopian, Post-Apocalyptic, Steampunk, Alternate-Victorian, Speculative Fiction, Romance, Young Adult, Zombies (THIS, this genre description! THIS is a large reason why the book was DNF’d)

Publisher: Del Rey
Publication Date: October 2011
Paperback: 470 Pages

Love can never die.

Love conquers all, so they say. But can Cupid’s arrow pierce the hearts of the living and the dead—or rather, the undead? Can a proper young Victorian lady find true love in the arms of a dashing zombie?

The year is 2195. The place is New Victoria—a high-tech nation modeled on the manners, mores, and fashions of an antique era. A teenager in high society, Nora Dearly is far more interested in military history and her country’s political unrest than in tea parties and debutante balls. But after her beloved parents die, Nora is left at the mercy of her domineering aunt, a social-climbing spendthrift who has squandered the family fortune and now plans to marry her niece off for money. For Nora, no fate could be more horrible—until she’s nearly kidnapped by an army of walking corpses.

But fate is just getting started with Nora. Catapulted from her world of drawing-room civility, she’s suddenly gunning down ravenous zombies alongside mysterious black-clad commandos and confronting “The Laz,” a fatal virus that raises the dead—and hell along with them. Hardly ideal circumstances. Then Nora meets Bram Griswold, a young soldier who is brave, handsome, noble . . . and dead. But as is the case with the rest of his special undead unit, luck and modern science have enabled Bram to hold on to his mind, his manners, and his body parts. And when his bond of trust with Nora turns to tenderness, there’s no turning back. Eventually, they know, the disease will win, separating the star-crossed lovers forever. But until then, beating or not, their hearts will have what they desire.

In Dearly, Departed, romance meets walking-dead thriller, spawning a madly imaginative novel of rip-roaring adventure, spine-tingling suspense, and macabre comedy that forever redefines the concept of undying love.

Stand alone or series: Book 1 in the “Gone with the Respiration” series (I sincerely hope that is something that someone misinformed posted on Goodreads and not the real title of the series)

How did I get this book: Purchased a copy at NYCC, where I got to meet the lovely Ms. Habel and hear her speak on a few panels about her book.

My Comments:

In the year 2195, the world has collapsed and been reborn. Basically, the story is thus:

In the early twenty-first century – some 150 years before the start of our novel – global warming has melted the ice caps, plague and famine have overwhelmed the populace, and the Americas are invaded by refugee Canadians that carry the superflu that wipes out 1 in every 4. The USA falls into a second Civil War (presumably because of the influenza plague? It’s never explained why this happens), which escalates to nuclear war and subsequent fallout. The US ceases to be…but that’s not all! A supervolcano explodes under Yellowstone Park (so we’ve got nuclear fallout AND volcanic destruction to deal with), and the survivors make their way to Central and South America, carving out some land that eventually becomes christened as New Victoria. These former American survivors are incredibly conservative alarmist types and looked to the Victorian era as a model for civility, order and prosperity.

One hundred and fifty years after the NUCLEAR WAR, the SUPERVOLCANO, the SUPER PLAGUE, and the MELTING of the polar ice caps – this is where our story begins.

A century and a half after all this catastrophic, apocalyptic devastation, the world’s ecosystem is somehow in working order and society, rife with hi-tech gadgetry, has been restored…albeit this is a society that emulates Victorian England. Nora Dearly comes from the equivalent of a titled family in the new world order, though she doesn’t have much in the way of family finances following the death of her father (and the lavish lifestyle of her aunt, who has sucked the family coffers dry). After leaving her preparatory school and gearing up for her societal debut in which she must find a wealthy husband in order to keep her family afloat, Nora finds herself in the middle of a mystery involving her late father and a handsome, charming, undead officer named Bram. And he’s a ZOMBIE. Did I mention there are now zombies?

Every DNF I encounter, I take as a personal loss. I truly, honestly try to finish every book I pick up, even if they are mediocre or underwhelming…but every so often a book comes around and I simply have to accept the inevitable. Such was my experience with Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel. There were three main issues that I couldn’t get my mind around with regard to Dearly, Departed, resulting in the unfortunate DNF.

First, there’s the problem of excess. Dearly, Departed is not just a Victorian era steampunkish novel – no, it is a hideous amalgam of some of the most popular trends in YA fiction right now. It is a post-apocalyptic, dystopian, pseudo-Victorian, purportedly steampunk, paranormal YA novel with ample romance and, oh yes, ZOMBIES. This is not exaggeration; this is the foundation of the novel. Unfortunately, none of these elements are actually executed well or convincingly. The excessive apocalypse is patently ridiculous, and apparently has no long term consequences because a mere 150 years later the world is totally fine, capable of producing sustainable crop yields and has a peachy keen ecosystem free from the nasty effects of volcanic ash or nuclear fallout (seriously, why not throw in an alien invasion in there or some kind of asteroid impact/massive solar flare while we’re at it? Maybe that’s the cause of the zombiism? Who knows!). More importantly, I couldn’t buy the New Victorian aspect at the heart of the novel. Lia Habel’s premise is that alarmists and conservatives – American alarmists and conservatives, mind you – have taken over and have decided to emulate Victorian England in aesthetic, mannerism, and societal values. WHY Victorian England? Of all the eras in all the world, why would conservative Americans choose Victorian era England as their template? The name of the series is an eye-gougingly bad play on Gone With the Wind (“Gone with the Respiration”); why then wouldn’t the new society choose to emulate the antebellum south, or puritanical New England, or any other time period more in keeping with the people, the mindset, and their history? The New Victorian aspect of the book feels shamelessly exploitative, and lacking in both integrity and logic. There’s the supposed steampunk angle for the book, too, which is entirely manufactured by the folks that have packaged and sold the novel because while there are some gaslamps around and there is the general Victorian aesthetic, there is nothing remotely steam or punk about this book. And then, hand in hand with these trends of course come the zombies – and to be honest, by the point the zombie virus came around, I’d had enough so I’m not entirely sure where the walking dead fit in or how the story progresses from that point onward.

The second major block for me was that of the jarring technology and aesthetic of Dearly, Departed. The juxtaposition of modern technology (tablet computers, holograms, digital cameras and the like) – technology that relies on electricity, namely – against the Victorian aesthetic is an interesting idea, but it never really clicks. Why would a society so technologically advanced as to create immersive holographic TV (and one that is at the very least as advanced as our own society with email, the internet, and electric powered vehicles) completely base its technological appearances and society on that of Victorian England? Too, Nora’s home seems to have both gas-powered gaslamps, but why when everything else is electric? Where does the electricity come from to power these many devices? Technology is magic in this book, and while that’s fine and dandy, it seems so haphazardly and excessively cobbled together, with no actual reason, restraint, or competency.

The third problem for me lay with the writing of the novel. Not only was the phrasing awkward and character reactions and dialogue stilted and painful (the first snippy fight between Nora and a popular girl at her school is excrutiatingly bad, ending with the *crushing* put-down: “Tell me…is Lady Mink less or more catty than you generally are? I like to be prepared for my first meetings with people – especially people who pretend to be important.” What a witty bunch, our characters.).

There’s the problem that the general speech oscillates wildly between the Victorian vernacular but then also tossing in some lovely phrases like “facepalm” and at one point, “unicorn fart”.

There’s the problem that the entire backstory of the world and the history of the apocalypse is given to readers point-blank in a history paper (that ends with “The End”, I kid you not).

There’s the problem that character perspectives shift from chapter to chapter, jumping not only from hero to heroine, but also to at least two other secondary characters. I am not a fan of the alternating hero to heroine character perspectives in a paranormal YA novel with a love story. In this particular novel, however, I think I would have preferred the dual narrative, as cliched as it is, because the other character chapters thrown into the mix are frankly bizarre, ineffective, and ultimately distancing. The romance itself felt trite and mind-numbingly familiar. Though I did not get far enough into the novel to discern the full nature of the love story between Bram and Nora, I got far enough to see it start down that oh-so-familiar path – with Bram marveling at how tiny and beautiful and fiesty Nora is, with Nora admiring his handsome countenance. I did not care to continue down the path.

For all these reasons, I must admit defeat. Dearly, Departed simply did not engage my interest and holds the spot as my first DNF of the year.

Notable Quotes/Parts: From the Prologue:


I was buried alive.

When the elevator groaned to a stop in the middle of the rocky shaft, I knew I was buried alive. Trapped thousands of feet below the earth’s surface and hundreds above the bottom of the shaft, dangling in a dimly lit ten-by-ten foot cage over the black bowels of the very mine I had been so relieved to get work in.

I pulled myself to my feet and pushed my best friend Jack aside, hitting the button that controlled the elevator. I hit it again and again, wailed my fist on it. Nothing. The glass-paned lantern dangling from the ceiling flickered wildly as the kerosene within dwindled, as if it were attempting to ward off its own death with bursts of exaggerated life.

Dread became a solid, burning thing within me, something twisting my own flesh to its will, speeding my heart and making my skin slick with sweat. Before I knew it was coming up, I doubled over and retched through the grated floor. Jack sat calmly beside me as I heaved, his bloody eye sockets and the gaping wound in his throat mocking me, mocking my attempt to rescue him. He looked like some kind of hellish funhouse clown.

The dam broke, and I finally started screaming. At Jack. At God. At everything. There was nothing left to do but scream. I hadn’t screamed when the monsters had descended on us. I hadn’t screamed when I’d had to run from them, or when I fought them, or when I’d dragged Jack to the elevator, blood bursting from the hole in his neck. Everything had happened so quickly, it’d seemed like there was no time to scream.

The monsters. Mad, animalistic, discolored, broken and battered from throwing themselves after their prey, each one thrashing like a person trapped beneath a frozen pond might struggle against the ice in desperate search of air…all teeth and hunger….

I slid down the wall of the elevator and buried my face in my sticky, itching hands. The coppery scent of the blood on them nauseated me, and I leaned back, my screams echoing back to me through the endless mineshaft. The elevator was covered in Jack’s blood. I was covered in Jack’s blood. I was wearing more of his blood on my ratty waistcoat than remained, still as a stagnant pond, in his own veins. My cheap old pocket watch was caked with it. Even the digital camera still feverishly clutched in Jack’s hands was slashed with red. Stupid New Victorian piece of crap. I’d always ragged on him for being so attached to that camera. Couldn’t even get the pictures off of it, not without a computer – and no one around here had a computer.

Still, Jack had been so proud of it, of the snapshots he took. And I’d dutifully posed every time he’d ordered me to.

Slowly, trembling, I pried it out of his rubbery fingers.

You can read the full excerpt online HERE.

Rating: DNF

Reading Next: Deep Sky by Patrick Lee

Buy the Book:

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  • Karen
    January 17, 2012 at 12:17 pm

    Oh, disappointing. I also hate throwing in the towel on books. I have this one waiting for me at the library right now, hopefully I’ll have better luck with it than you did. 🙂

  • Cecelia
    January 17, 2012 at 12:43 pm

    I have to echo Karen. I was hoping this one would work, and I too have it waiting at the library. I think I’ll still give it a chance…

  • Shellie
    January 17, 2012 at 12:45 pm

    Damn. I was really looking forward to reading this book. I think I’ll keep it on my swap list but I wont buy it.


  • slayra
    January 17, 2012 at 1:22 pm

    Oh my, sounds like a mess. Can we say ‘overkill’ on the apocalyptic part. O.o

    And it seems like the author doesn’t understand the concept of ‘steampunk’ if she includes electricity-based tech in her world. One can’t have it both (unless you’re Scott Westerfeld, I’m told).

    I also dislike leaving books unfinished, but sometimes it’s just too much (it happened to me with “The Faerie Ring” a while ago). If it’s too nonsensical I just can’t finish it sometimes. 😐

  • Emily's Reading Room
    January 17, 2012 at 3:10 pm

    Is anyone else DYING to know how “unicorn farts” is used in context?

  • LiLi
    January 17, 2012 at 3:16 pm

    That’s so sad to have a DNF so early in the year, but honestly if one takes a moment to really think about all those genres trying to work together in one book, it could only end in catastrophe. Not saying it isn’t possible because I do believe in miracles but with the list of all the problems you had with the book, it’s just spells disaster.

    To slayra:
    The same thing happened with “The Faerie Ring” for me too. I did write a DNF review for because it was sent by the publisher but there came a point where I just didn’t care what happened to the characters.

  • Sean Wills
    January 17, 2012 at 3:41 pm

    So…steampunk (sort of), Neo-Victorian aesthetic, post-apocalyptic setting, and zombies.

    This has got to be some kind of joke. What, are we publishing books that just tick enough boxes on a list called ‘Pandering to the YA crowd’?

  • Heidi
    January 17, 2012 at 4:50 pm

    Wow. The background buildup and genre smashing of this story sounds so amazingly overdone I could hardly believe what I was reading. I honestly wasn’t interested in this one to begin with (I still haven’t opened my heart to zombie love), but enjoyed your review greatly. I’m probably more willing to toss in the towel than most, but always sorry to see it happen.

  • Hanna @ Booking In Heels
    January 17, 2012 at 6:15 pm

    With books like these I always have an image of the author with their manuscript, one foot braced on the desk frantically shoving on their work, trying to ram as many different plot points/genres/gimmicks in as humanly possible.

    I’ve picked this up a few times but put it back down every time. There just seemed to be too much going on. I’m not a fan of simple plots exactly, but there is a line somewhere.

    Bad dialogue is also a pet peeve of mine. I hate it when it just kind of… clunks because it’s trying too hard to be funny. I couldn’t finish Soulless for exactly that reason.

  • dyah.candra
    January 17, 2012 at 10:39 pm

    I don’t finish this book either. I don’t like the dialogue. It sorts of making me go “Ewwwwww”.
    Sorry if my grammar’s bad, English isn’t my mother tongue.

  • Diana Peterfreund
    January 18, 2012 at 8:44 am

    I’m curious what you mean when you say that it was annoying to get the perspective of several characters. Isn’t that standard in novels? It’s only recently that the “all first person, all the time” came to the forefront of YA novels. Look at all the Alloy books: Gossip girl, Traveling Pants, Luxe, Midnighters, etc. They take as a given 4 or more perspectives.

  • Julie Witt
    January 18, 2012 at 9:59 am

    I’m really sad to hear that you didn’t like it! I know I’m going to be booed out of here, but since we all know all books aren’t for everyone, I actually liked this book! I’ve been dying to read The Faerie Ring, but I think I’ll get it out of the library instead of buying it to make sure I’ll like it though now!! Thanks for giving us your view 🙂

  • Thea
    January 18, 2012 at 10:31 am

    Karen, Cecelia, Shellie – I sincerely hope you do give it a chance and enjoy it! I’ve seen many positive reviews for this book, but I personally couldn’t connect with it. I’m definitely interested to hear your thoughts once you’ve tried it out.

    Slayra – Overkill INDEED. I was seriously waiting for more, like a massive earthquake, or the death of the Earth’s core, or some nearby star going supernova or something. Heh.

    Also, I’ve had The Faerie Ring on my TBR for a while now…but maybe it will stay there for a while longer, considering!

    Emily – Bahahaha! The sentence was, “You know what? You need to man up. You need to stop acting like a little girl – wah-wah, I was bitten, my life sucks so bad. All of our lives suck right now, okay? You might think yours is an extra special sparkly rainbow unicorn fart type of suck, but it’s not.”

    Emphasis added by me, of course. A neo-victorian heroine telling someone to man up. Not something you read every day.

    LiLi – You know, I saw all the different genres heading into the book, but I held out hope that it could work. Certainly, strange combinations have worked before! Unfortunately, this was not one of those cases (at least, not for me). Thanks for the note about The Faerie Ring, too – I think I’ll leave it on the TBR for a little while longer.

    Sean – YES. I was just saying the same thing to Ana the other day! It’s like someone was trying to hit every trend in the YA market simultaneously to ill effect. It’s pretty insulting, actually.

    Heidi – Yep, it’s a tad bit overwrought! I’m not a fan of the zombie love, as you put it, but against all expectation I loved Isaac Marion’s Warm Bodies – so if you’re looking to give it a shot, I’d suggest that novel 😉

    Hannah – HAH! That’s a great visual…and sadly, really applicable to Dearly, Departed. I know there’s a genuinely entertaining story in there somewhere, but it’s hard to tell (or care) when there is so much excess dragging it down.

    I completely agree with you on the dialogue front! I don’t think there’s anything more cringe-inducing than reading a conversation that is supposed to be witty but just comes off as un-funny and trying too hard. (And yes, I’m 100% with you on Soulless!!!)

    Dyah – Agreed! Shoddy dialogue is a very quick way to kill a book for me. (And your English is fine 🙂 )

    Diana – I’m not talking about limited (or omniscient) third person POV; in Dearly, Departed, each chapter is narrated in the first person by a number of characters. The first five chapters or so are narrated by Nora, followed by a couple of Bram chapters, and then, randomly about 100 or so pages in, we are suddenly following the first person narrative of a random officer that we had just met in the prior chapter. While there are books that use the limited third person technique and jump from perspective to perspective each chapter (like certain fantasy novels, for instance), the first person narration for more than one character irritates me to no end, and in this book with its five narrators (or maybe more? I don’t know!) was confusing and off-putting.

    I’ve never read the Alloy books, so not sure how the narration is handled there.

    Julie – Aww, we would never boo you! Everyone is entitled to her own opinion, and I’m seriously glad you enjoyed this book! Feeling frustrated or giving up on a book is never fun, and I’d never wish that on anyone. Excited to see what you think of The Faerie Ring since opinion seems split 🙂

  • Sean Wills
    January 18, 2012 at 10:36 am

    Wow, four first-person narrators? That’s…pretty bad o.o

    I also thought you meant that merely having more than one third-person narrator is off-putting, which is a sentiment I’ve seen expressed a lot lately. But yeah, any more than two in first-person (and even that’s pushing it) usually isn’t a good idea.

  • SaraO @ TheLibrarianReads
    January 18, 2012 at 11:22 am

    Thanks for this review. I guess it was fate that my downloaded copy from NetGalley disappeared before I had time to read. Saved myself from a lot of cliches… Tired of “bandwagon” books. *blah*

    But as always I loved that you took the time to fully explain why you didn’t enjoy instead of just hating 😉

  • heather
    January 18, 2012 at 11:44 am

    I literally laughed out loud when I read the phrase “unicorn fart.” (And no–I haven’t read this book). All I could think of was the phrase, “I couldn’t give a unicorn’s fart about that” ala “rat’s ass.”

  • Lori Strongin
    January 18, 2012 at 9:01 pm

    Eep. This sounds like a case of Less Is More, meaning maybe the author should have dropped one or two (or five) tropes and focus on making just one or two shine. And ditto that there’s no way the earth would be able to sustain life or agriculture a mere 150 years after such catastrophic events. Humanity itself would be sterile, I’d think, so no one would even be alive since the previous generations couldn’t have furthered the species.


  • slayra
    January 19, 2012 at 8:04 am

    Lili: I did buy my copy of “The Faerie Ring” but I just thought the story didn’t add up (or make a lot of sense) it was too random. O.o I just couldn’t finish it. :/

    As for this book it just came out in Portugal, but I ain’t buying it. Gah. 😛

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  • Lauren
    September 11, 2012 at 4:30 pm

    I have to agree that the word choices didn’t really fit well togeather, but it was a quick and quirky read that I enjoyed; though I still have yet to find a good post-apocolyptic book with somthing akin to romance in it, this is the closest I have found. Still a fun read though 😮

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