Strange and Ever After by Susan Dennard

“For ever after, you will be glad you did what you wanted instead of what everyone else expected.”

Strange and Ever After Cover

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It has been a tumultuous time for Eleanor Fitt since life as she knew it in Philadelphia came to an abrupt end. Although the Spirit-Hunters—Joseph, Jie, and Daniel—have helped her survive, Eleanor has lost almost everything.

And now, Jie has been taken by the evil necromancer Marcus. Eleanor is determined not only to get Jie back but to finally end this nightmare. To do so, she must navigate the hot desert streets of nineteenth-century Egypt amid the rising Dead, her unresolved feelings for Daniel, and her volatile relationships with Joseph and with Oliver, her demon. But it won’t be easy. Because Allison, her friend from Philadelphia, has tagged along, becoming strangely entangled in Eleanor’s mission.

3.5 STARS

CW: loss of a loved one, gore, implied domestic abuse, violence

After the middle of this series dragging, I knew Strange and Ever After needed to work hard to stick the landing and make the whole reading experience worth the time I spent on it. I always feel the disappointment of a weak ending more strongly when I’m already going out on a limb in a genre I’m not a fan of (in this case, historical and zombie fiction).

Thankfully, things went well enough this time around that I’ll be leaving with a sense of contentment. It wasn’t the most amazing finale in the world, but I’m not left with the feeling that I’ve been wasting my time, and that’s pretty valuable.

Once again, one of the greatest strengths Sooz has to offer is her ability to keep the plot moving forward at all times. Every scene she writes has more than one purpose, and everything moves forward one way or another. It’s incredibly difficult to make that happen, and I admire that skill so much. Especially when you consider that not every scene is necessarily fast-paced; moving forward in scenes that have to be slower requires a careful balance.

But Strange and Ever After also brings a sense of finality to the table. This isn’t a story with lots of “but maybe…” loopholes. This is the end of the line, where the consequences are settling in for good, and there’s no going back. One of the things in this realm I felt was handled best was actually the question of Eleanor’s amputated hand. In the last book, her deal with Oliver returned it to her temporarily, but now she has to confront the very real possibility that she can’t keep it, and that Danny has made her a prosthetic hand to wear instead. I really appreciated that this wasn’t a “magic fixes it with no consequences!” situation, and that the prosthetic ended up being loaded with sentiment and significance.

On the flipside, though, Strange and Ever After did drop the ball on a couple counts. Joseph and Allison felt incredibly sidelined, serving more as plot props than full characters, and Marcus slid back and forth between very real threat that I hated, and distant threat that didn’t feel like a particularly strong antagonist at all.

The resolution of Elijah’s quest to find the Old Man in the pyramids also felt somewhat lacking, with a sprinkling of deus ex machina involved. That deus ex machina might have felt a little less heavy handed if certain things had been explored sooner, namely the existence of a magic beyond that of mere necromancy, but as it was, it felt like a last minute addition to spice up the finale.

And I suppose you shouldn’t get me started on the end direction of Oliver’s arc, because that…lost the thread, in my eyes. I think it could have been held together more strongly than that, and decisions could have been made that were more in character, but it is what it is at this point.

At the end of the day, though, most of the conclusion to the story started in Something Strange and Deadly was well done. Loose threads are tied up, there’s an allusion to A Dawn Most Wicked that adds extra emotional weight, and most of the character arcs are resolved in ways that suit the cast. However, as far as finales go, it’s not the best I’ve ever read, and having read the rest of Sooz’s work, I can say with total confidence that I prefer the Witchlands series much more, since it feels more carefully plotted and has stronger, more significant payoffs to its plot threads.

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