Something Strange and Deadly, Book 1

Book review by
Julie A. Carlson, Common Sense Media
Something Strange and Deadly, Book 1 Book Poster Image
Thrilling fantasy mixes mystery, Victorian romance, zombies.

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Readers will learn about Vicortian times and Philadelphia's Centennial Exposition in 1876, which was the first World's Fair in the United States. (The book's website features photos of the exposition and Philadelphia life and fashions during the late 1800s.) Science figures heavily in the novel, as it showcases machines, steam, and technology similar to night vision, which is used in ghost hunting. Characters use various French and German words.

Positive Messages

The characters, especially Eleanor, learn that they always have a choice -- to trust their instincts, to face their fears head on, to put themselves before others, and, most important, teamwork. Two of the major characters are multicultural.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Eleanor is gutsy and fiercely independent and always puts family above herself, even in dangerous situations. Jie, a member of the Spirit-Hunter team, is strong, sticks up for Eleanor, and helps protect her fellow Spirit-Hunters in time of need. Daniel, the love interest, has had some trouble in the past and is trying to make amends.


Word-of-mouth and press coverage of young men being decapitated. Scary undead corpses roam the city, including the exposition. Some fistfights, explosions. Corpses are taken out by special electronic magnetic machines and by physical combat. Eleanor and the Spirit-Hunters are attacked by corpses as well as humans. A character is possessed by a demon.


Eleanor's mother wants her to marry a young man named Clarence, but Eleanor considers him just a friend. Eleanor becomes attracted to one of the Spirit-Hunters, Daniel. Sparks fly between them, leading to a romance that includes tender touches, sultry looks, and one heart-stopping kiss.


"Damn," "s--t," and a handful of insults.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A character mentions having visited an opium den for investigative purposes.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Something Strange and Deadly is an adventurous paranormal story that will appeal to fans of historical fiction. The first of a planned trilogy, it's set in Victorian times and features likable characters and swooning romance. There's a little swearing ("damn," s--t"), plus some violence and frightening scenes with zombies. Voodoo, witchcraft, and demon possession are also discussed and shown. In a couple of scenes, protagonist Eleanor's mother, intent on marrying her daughter off to help the family financially, makes Eleanor go without eating to prevent her from gaining weight.

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What's the story?

Eleanor Fitt is waiting at the telegraph office in Philadelphia to hear word from her beloved brother when some of the zombies that have been plaguing the city invade the office. A corpse gives her an ominous message that her brother is in serious trouble and has been detained. Fearing the worst, Eleanor contacts the Spirit-Hunters, a rag-tag group who deal with the paranormal. Their temporary office is located in Machinery Hall at the Centennial Exposition of 1876. Hoping they can provide answers to the message, Eleanor becomes embroiled in helping the Spirit-Hunters battle the Dead, while figuring out how to save her brother in the process.

Is it any good?

SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY is a thrilling novel with dark gothic and steampunk elements and nonstop action from start to finish. Author Susan Dennard clearly did her research on the Centennial Exposition of 1876 and the Victorian era. She captures the essence of being a teen girl during this time -- the clothes, mannerisms, and customs -- while giving her story a modern edge. The mystery moves the narrative and keeps the reader on tenterhooks at all times. Each character is real and believable, and Eleanor is a terrific heroine with solid values and moxie.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the Centennial Exhibition of 1876 and Philadelphia during the late 1800s (which are shown in photographs on the novel's official website). Can you imagine how different being a teenager in Victorian times would be? 

  • Why do you think novels about zombies are so popular? 

  • How far would you go to protect or save your sibling or relative from harm?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love historical paranormal and zombies

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