★★★★½Picking up several months following that horrific day the “evil” zombies attacked New London, the city is still trying to come to grips with the fact that zombies exist – that people they know and love have been taken by or become one of the walking dead. The well-ordered foundations of New Victorian society have been shaken, and too soon to tell how this whole “zombie problem” will end up playing out. Love them or hate them, everyone – living and dead – has a pretty strong and definite opinion on the matter. And now that a new strain of “The Laz” has been discovered, one that doesn’t respond to Dr. Dearly’s vaccine, it’s become even more dangerous for everyone. Sides are being chosen, prejudice runs rampant, violence escalates, and the city hangs on the edge of a precipice. Once again, Nora, Bram & Co. find themselves swept up into a web of danger, secrets, intrigue, and conspiracy as they try to prevent a full-blown conflict between the zealous living and the persecuted dead while also becoming the target of a far more personal vendetta. Nora. Ah, Nora. ‘Spitfire’ is the word that comes to mind when I think of Nora Dearly. Fiery and passionate, she loves whole-heartedly and fights fiercely for that which she loves. Nora’s not one to do anything halfway. She’s a wonderfully capable heroine, able to fight her own battles (although she’s not opposed to having help from time to time). She’s resourceful, outspoken, intelligent and cool-headed under pressure – the antithesis of everything New Victorian society says she should be. I love her impulsiveness, her temper, her spunk, her huge heart, and her willingness to act on her convictions. Bram. [sigh]… oh Bram. Throughout this series, Bram remains my absolute favorite character. And it’s not just because he’s a super cute zombie boy – although that certainly doesn’t hurt – but it’s because I just love the voice Lia has given him. He’s the kind of person that radiates confidence, calm, capability. If the world is crumbling down all around, he’s one of those characters you have absolute faith in – the kind of character where you say, “It’s ok. Bram is here, therefore, everything will most assuredly be fine.” He draws people to him, reader and character alike – a centering, grounding force for those around him and the heart ‘n soul of these books. It’s not hard to understand why he became the captain of Z Company, despite his young age. He’s kind and gentle, while still being firm and decisive. And yet, though he doesn’t often show it, he’s also a conflicted character. It’s hard to be a leader – the one everyone looks to. And he has doubts about his role in the escalating zombie situation – whom should he side with? Should there even be sides? Nora & Bram. These two… [sigh] I cannot adequately explain how much I adore this love story, but I’m going to give it my best shot. I love how they crave each other, and yet are still two very independent people. I love how they genuinely respect each other, how they value each other’s opinions and insights, how they’re a team, and how their first thought is for the safety and happiness of the other. They’re open and honest with each other, and they let each other be who they are, no pretense or games. Even with all the obstacles standing in their way, which are numerous, Nora & Bram have decided that their love is worth fighting for, worth pursuing. And I love how even in the darkest of dark times they are able to find humor, hope and comfort in each other. (← Ok… yeah. That works.) Pamela. You might remember, if you read my Dearly, Departed review, that I adored Pamela in the last book. She starts off rather mousy – the throw-away best friend… and then somehow morphs into super, kick-butt Pamela. However, Dearly, Beloved is a tough book for our Pamma. She was so strong for her family for so long, and feels as though she must still be that foundation for them. However, now that she’s out of the thick of battle, no longer feeling the rush of adrenaline and survival, she’s falling apart, having nightmares, and her anxiety is worse than ever. She needs someone she can lean on this time… and I found part of Lia’s answer to this very intriguing. I’m very curious indeed as to where she’s going to take this. I have hopes, people, hopes. The gang’s all here. So what about the rest of Z Company – the doctors & soldiers? They’re all here – Chas, Tom, Coalhouse, Ren, Samedi, Dr. Chase, Dr. Dearly, as well as Issy and various others we’ve already met, along with some we haven’t. The cast is a large one, but the character development is solid and well done. We learn more back story about several members of this ragtag group, and I loved the deeper more rounded perspectives Ms. Lia provides for these characters. Villains. As with the last book, the villain(s) of Dearly, Beloved get(s) their own shot(s) at narration (← yay, misdirection! Or is it? Or is it?!?!) as Wolfe did in Dearly, Departed. However, if I had one complaint about the last book it would be that Wolfe always struck me as being a tad one-dimensional. I prefer my villains twisty, conflicted and sympathetic, and in this book, Lia delivers this perfectly. Histories that illicit tiny pangs of compassion, empathetic feelings of being backed into a corner with no choice, pitying delusions of things that will never be. Oh, the “bad guy(s)” is/are still nefarious and scary, but they have bits of themselves that I found myself empathizing with, understanding how they could’ve taken the path that led to their ultimate fall from grace. And aren’t those the best villains? Why yes. Yes, they are. Story. With six alternating and diverse points of view that are all weaving toward the final conclusion, the plot of Dearly, Beloved is far more complex than that of the first book. It builds a bit slowly at first, reflecting the “where do we go from here?” tone as the doctors and former soldiers of Z-Company, the Dearlys and the Roes are all trying to settle back into life after the zombie attack orchestrated by Wolfe – trying to determine a direction, just attempting to carry on, or rediscovering normal. But what is “normal” now? The newly dead roam the streets of New London alongside the living, and tensions are rising between the two groups. Protests, violence, arguments for and against zombie civil rights have broken out in Parliament. The city is a powder keg, ready and primed, and Lia does a fantastic job of capturing and gradually developing this growing feeling of unease. As I said this is a story that starts rolling a little slowly. Part of this, I think, is due to readjusting to a new narrator every chapter. Coming off the “omigosh!” ending you just left behind and trying to figure out where you are now in the time-line. That said, I don’t think this is a negative aspect to the book at all, as all of the narrators are necessary to tell this story. Dearly, Beloved certainly wouldn’t have had that heightened sense of urgency without each individual viewpoint. And through it all, Lia is ever building and accelerating the story until it turns into an unstoppable force – weaving a complicated tangle of clues for the reader, who’s given a birds-eye view of many of the goings on, and the characters, who you’re desperately hoping will piece everything together before disaster strikes. This is definitely one of those books where I feel a second reading would be beneficial for me to understand how all the pieces fit together, as I did get a tad lost one or two times. The only reason I gave it a 4.5 was because of that. However, I do feel like that might’ve been more me than the book. So upon a second reading, I reserve the right to change my rating should I see fit. (← In the spirit of full disclosure…)Overall. Like a zombie at an all-you-can-eat brain buffet, I gobbled this book right up… and it was delicious.