Dearly, Departed was, I believe, the first book I've ever read where the zombies are the heroes. I've read plenty of books with zombie villains or, more specifically, scary zombie monsters. But this is the first I've seen anyone try to romanticize them. Bravo for that, Lia Habel.
Nora is a proper New Victorian girl: she wheres floor length skirts, drinks tea, and attends a prestigious school for girls. Never mind that her best friend is the daughter of a baker, or her unladylike affinity for war stories, or her ability to wield a shot gun: ignore all of that, and you have a perfect young lady. But when Nora is kidnapped by a troop of zombies, who claim a surprising connection to her father, Nora is thrown into a world that is anything but proper. Nora soon befriends several of the zombies. In particular, she forms an attachment to Bram, a zombie boy who serves as the captain of their band.
Obviously, I love the idea behind this book. I love that is straddles so many genres. It's sort of...Victorian/Steampunk/Cyberpunk/Futuristic/Urban Fantasy/Romance. With a side of sci-fi. It sounds crowded and awful, but the author actually forms it into a very cohesive and entertaining story.
I loved Nora. She's got a lot of spirit. She's a survivor, and a fighter. I liked her acceptance of the zombies and her affection for Bram. I liked Bram, as well. I'm a sucker for the dutiful soldier types. I enjoyed his back story (tortured, of course). I liked his attitude toward life. I really liked the supporting cast, even though the rest of them are pretty two dimensional.
I liked the culture/class issues that the story presents. Nora comes from a society where your born into your class, and any attempt at social climbing is frowned upon. Bram, on the other hand, comes from a society where wealth and status are earned by virtue of creative or scientific achievement. In affect you get to see two different ideals, neither perfect.
There are pacing issues. The plot crawls forward throughout most of the middle. Thank God the narrative is clever, or I would have been bored out of my mind.
It's a first person narrative where the point of view switches every chapter. That's a risky little game for an author to play, because usually I find myself liking some narrators more than others. That was true here. Pamela, Nora's best friend, was fine as a supporting character, but I found myself totally losing interest whenever she was the narrator.
It's tough to make a hard and fast recommendation because, again, this book doesn't fit neatly into one genre. But I'd say those who like steampunk, paranormal romance, and YA in general will like this book. Those looking for hardcore zombie horror should probably look elsewhere. Unless you want the romantic tragedy version of the walking dead. 3.5 stars.