Review: Dearly, Beloved by Lia Habel

Dearly, BelovedThis book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Last year’s teen novel Dearly, Departed took zombie novels to a new level with the tale of love between the living and the dead.  In her newest book, LiaHabel continues her love story but also expands on the world that she created.  Dearly, Beloved fleshes out a world in which the undead attempt to coexist side by side with the living.

(Description nicked from B&N.com.)

“Nora and her savior, the young zombie soldier Bram Griswold, fell hopelessly in love. But others feel only fear and loathing for the reanimated dead. Now, as tensions grow between pro- and anti-zombie factions, battle lines are being drawn in the streets. And though Bram is no longer in the New Victorian army, he and his ex-commando zombie comrades are determined to help keep the peace. That means taking a dangerous stand between The Changed, a radical group of sentient zombies fighting for survival, and The Murder, a masked squad of urban guerrillas hellbent on destroying the living dead. But zombies aren’t the only ones in danger: Their living allies are also in The Murder’s crosshairs, and for one vengeful zealot, Nora Dearly is the number one target.

As paranoia, prejudice, and terrorist attacks threaten to plunge the city into full-scale war, Nora’s scientist father and his team continue their desperate race to unlock the secrets of “The Laz” and find a cure. But their efforts may be doomed when a mysterious zombie appears bearing an entirely new strain of the illness—and the nation of New Victoria braces for a new wave of the apocalypse.”

While I know that this series is meant as a love story, I find the strongest aspect of the story is the worldbuilding that Habel has done.  By making her zombies intelligent (under the correct conditions), she sets up a scenario when living and dead must learn to live together.  By making the zombies victims of a virus, she also sets up the tension between the two groups.  For many families, loved ones have returned from the dead as intelligent creatures, but they are also possibly the means by which the family itself may become infected.

What this leads to is not only the paranoia of a deadly disease, but also the political situation engendered by having a group that is, essentially, disenfranchised.  Their legal status is in doubt, and thus there’s a huge conflict, one that drives much of the plot.  It’s the classic set-up for a story about prejudice, and Habel tells this tale with admirable skill.

I felt that this novel was somewhat darker than the original one.  Yes, the first book dealt with zombies and the unfortunate consequences of being the living dead.  And obviously, there was a lot of the terror and disgust of the living meeting zombies for the first time.  In this book, though, readers get to see a lot of the fallout of the events of the first novel.  For example, Nora’s best friend Pamela goes through a form of post traumatic stress due to her encounters with zombies.  She endures terrible panic attacks and slowly becomes a person very different from the one we first met.  On the other end of the spectrum, another character becomes embroiled in a group that kills zombies, as his fear turns to hatred.

The one thing that I don’t like about this novel is that, like the first one, there are too many points of view.  This book contains six different characters that get first-person narrative, and at times it’s frustrating to be jumped back and forth so much.  On the one hand, it does allow readers to get a better overall view of the plot, since no one character can be everywhere; on the other hand, it can yank the reader out of the story to have to remember who’s talking at any given time.

Aside from that one little quibble, Dearly, Beloved is a complex and well thought out take on the zombie tales that have become so common lately.  Habel’s narrative gives you both an overarching plot and an attention to the little moments that perfectly balance one another.  This series would make a great bunch of movies, and I think it ranks up there with The Hunger Games for its dystopian elements.  Teens and adults alike should greatly enjoy this novel.