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Hilary T. Smith
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Bryan Peterson

Dearly, Beloved

Dearly, Beloved - Though Dearly, Beloved finally hit its stride at around 70%, that was altogether far too late for this rating to be salvaged. While the final chapters saw a dramatic acceleration in the pacing and a return to the tongue-in-cheek humour of Dearly, Departed, the truth is, I almost didn’t get that far. Up to that point, I felt not so much that I was reading, but that I was actively fighting the urge to be done with it and mark this as a DNF. The frustrating part of this is that Dearly, Beloved is not a “bad” novel. In fact, it has all the potential of being a good one – Habel has some unique, well thought out ideas and avoids many of the all too common tropes beleaguering the genre. But put simply, for a zombie/steampunk novel, Dearly, Beloved is, well, boring. As with its predecessor, much of the trouble lies in the sheer breadth of viewpoints. With six (at least, I think it’s six, I stopped counting) point of view characters, the novel starts to feel weirdly top-heavy, staggering drunkenly with not enough plot for ballast. Exacerbating the issue is that the POVs lack distinction –it’s easy to lose track of who’s head you’re in due to the lack of tone. Nora, Laura, Pamela, even Bram all occasionally sound like exactly the same person. Also, I’m not convinced that all of the points of view are necessary to tell the story, and that some couldn’t have been condensed in order to make the novel less cumbersome. Dearly, Beloved is rich with detail: a zombie girl grows flowers in her body like a walking garden, a perfectly preserved 20th century Rolls Royce is armed with railguns, a throat wound is sewn closed liked a ribbon-laced corset. Habel clearly has an eye for the grotesquely beautiful, and her characters are vividly rendered. Habel’s interest in her subject matter is evident, as her attention to even the finest points of her elaborately imagined world demonstrate. Similarly, by creating a mash-up of the past and future, the dead and the living, Habel is able to eloquently explore themes of social class, inequality and prejudice. The juxtaposition of Victorian etiquette with a futuristic setting makes for solid worldbuilding, as the novel seems equally concerned with the minutiae of both. However, this doesn’t negate the fact that plot of Dearly, Beloved is far less compelling than that of Dearly, Departed. The tension is flaccid, if not non-existent, for a large part of the story. Following two main threads that serve to throw conflict between the living, the zombies, and even the zombies themselves – the story feel tedious, with the most interesting points left to be addressed in the next book. And while it could be argued that the clues and foreshadowing all tie together cleverly at the finale, it’s an uphill battle to stay interested. Despite my lack of enthusiasm in general for this book – Habel has done an exceptional job of laying the groundwork for an intriguing third book. Suffice to say, I have theories about how it will play out. However, whether I’m interested enough in finding out whether I’m right or not, is another matter entirely.* * * * **theatrically collapses at the finish line*