The thing about zombies (and zombie books) is that they just keep coming back. And for fans of the undead, that’s fantastic news. Mashups are one way that authors are keeping this particular subgenre shambling along. Another successful tactic is to inject a healthy dose of humor to offset the inevitable gore and bloodshed. As with any subgenre, zombie books might seem homogenous from afar. After all, how many different ways can you tell a story about the dead coming back to life? It turns out there are quite a lot, and the resulting novels will appeal to a wide variety of readers. The thing that readers of any zombie book need to have in common is at least a medium tolerance for violence. Although some zombie tales keep this fairly light, a world with dead people walking around is going to have some gross-out moments. Besides the gore factor, the primary factor to consider when trying to decide whether to recommend a particular zombie outing to a reader is the book’s tone. A surprising number of books featuring zombies these days are fairly light in tone and can even be quite funny.
Knowing whether readers want an amusing tongue-in-cheek riff or if instead they want the pants scared off of them will determine which of the books in the zombie genre to steer them toward. Here are some of the latest releases, starting with titles that are more light and fun and then shading to those that are more dark and violent. Librarians are sure to find something to please any zombie fan.
One sure way to know that your zombie book is not aimed at the hard-core horror crowd is if your hero or heroine is one of the undead. These books somehow make you root for their zombie protagonist.
Anderson, Kevin J. Hair-Raising. Kensington. (Dan Shamble, Zombie P.I., Bk. 3). 2013. 288p. ISBN 9780758277381. pap. $15. FANTASY
Although better known for his sf novels, Anderson has written a third book featuring zombie PI Dan Chambeaux (Death Warmed Over; Unnatural Acts), righter of wrongs for the inhabitants of the Unnatural Quarter. As usual, Dan takes on several cases at once, including money skimming at a cockatrice fighting ring, a mad scientist with a customer-service claim against a spare body parts emporium, a custody battle between a zombie and his ex, and a spate of scalpings that raises tensions between two werewolf factions. VERDICT Crossing a soft-boiled PI story with the popular zombie horror subgenre results in a tale that is more goofy than scary. The adventures are light and fun, but Anderson shows an overreliance on jokes that are older than the mummies walking the streets of the quarter.
Marshall, James. Zombie Versus Fairy Featuring Albinos. ChiZine. 2013. 250p. ISBN 9781771481410. pap. $16.95. FANTASY
As you can tell from the title, this is a very silly book. Zombies run the world, raise humans for meat, and are aided by supernaturals such as fairies. Adding to the craziness, they are apparently controlled by albinos in their heads. Buck is a zombie unhappy with his life, and when he meets Fairy_26, he learns of a plot to change the world order. There are some hilarious set pieces here, such as the zombie grocery store, and the marriage counseling between Buck and his wife. Unfortunately the fever dream of weirdness doesn’t coalesce into a comprehensible plot. VERDICT Decent writing and wacky humor can’t save this middle volume of a series (following 2012’s Ninja Versus Pirate Featuring Zombies) from its own excesses.
Rowland, Diana. White Trash Zombie Apocalypse. DAW, dist. by Penguin Group (USA). (White Trash Zombie, Bk. 3). Jul. 2013. 304p. ISBN 9780756408039. pap. $7.99. FANTASY
A lot has happened since drug-addicted dropout Angel Crawford became a zombie (My Life as a White Trash Zombie; Even White Trash Zombies Get the Blues) and started cleaning up her life, and this new title might not be the easiest place for newcomers to jump in. Angel still works at the morgue where she obtains a steady supply of the brains that keep her sane and undetected by normals, but things get a little meta when a film company decides to produce a zombie movie in her small Louisiana town. Something is rotten on the set as the zombie hunters Angel has crossed in the past seem to be up to some new tricks. VERDICT More urban fantasy than horror, this dark but very funny series nonetheless packs in a decent amount of gore for those who are more used to zombies as villains instead of as appealing reformed punkette heroines.
Even when it’s humans vs. zombies, adding humor to the mix means that these books have an appeal beyond the usual horror fandom.
Dealeo, B.F. Fifty Shades of Brains. Ambauminable. 2013. 227p. ISBN 9781937914028. pap. $14.95. HORROR
In this spoof of E.L. James’s Fifty Shades of Grey, Aurora Foyle gets an interview with famous zombie hunter Caligula Green and is asked to join him in his efforts to clear Seattle of the walking dead. Controlling and emotionally unavailable, Caligula would seem a bad romantic bet, but Aurora can’t hear the warning bells over the voice of her inner sex goddess. Although those familiar with James’s book will catch a lot of spot-on gags, this title is one long joke that overstays its welcome. VERDICT Turning a famous piece of literature into a clever parody by adding something over the top like zombies, such as with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, can be done successfully. However, if the parodied source material isn’t known for its polished writing, the author may perpetuate some pretty painful prose.
Logan, Michael. Apocalypse Cow. Griffin: St. Martin’s. 2013. 352p. ISBN 9781250032867. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250032850. SF
After an engineered virus gets loose in the cow population of Glasgow, it spreads and turns even beloved household pets into slavering monsters in this hilariously absurd take on the zombie genre. The animals mindlessly attack humans throughout Britain, and soon the countryside is awash in corpses and the UK is under quarantine. Survivors include slaughterhouse worker Terry, inept journalist Lesley, and gangly teen Geldof, whose mother is a militant vegan. These misfits are fleeing not only man-eating livestock but also forces that are determined to cover up the government’s involvement in the virus’s origin. The action slows a little in the middle but picks back up as the group race to get the evidence out of the country. VERDICT The author has wisely chosen to play this story for laughs, and it is very funny indeed in that deadpan British way that shows why it won the inaugural Terry Pratchett Prize for a First Novel.
Writers may still choose to create a classic postapocalyptic zombie world, but even so there is usually a twist. Whatever else they add to the mix, these books tend to be bleak and are going for scary, not funny.
Clines, Peter. Ex-Communication. Broadway. (Ex-Heroes, Bk. 3). Jul. 2013. 336p. ISBN 9780385346825. pap. $14. SF
In this genre mashup, comic book–style superheroes are all that stand between the last remaining humans in Los Angeles and the ravaging hordes of zombies that surround the walled refuge they have made in an old movie studio. While in book one (Ex-Heroes), the heroes faced off against a hostile street gang and in the truly excellent sequel (Ex-Patriots), they were up against forces from the U.S. Army, the opponents in this third entry are just as likely to be from within their own community. VERDICT Clines succeeds best in his swift and engaging action sequences and in his portraits of superheroes who remain human and relatable in spite of their formidable powers and responsibilities. The rather late reveal of the big bad in this volume means that it lacks some of the narrative focus of previous entries, but one can hope that Clines will be returning to his intriguing postapocalyptic world.
Stenson, Peter. Fiend. Crown. Jul. 2013. 304p. ISBN 9780770436315. $22; ebk. ISBN 9780770436322. HORROR
When Chase Daniels surfaces from a meth bender to find the world overrun with zombies, he hopes he’s just on a very bad trip. Grabbing his best friend Typewriter and his ex-girlfriend KK, both fellow tweakers, Chase heads off to find someplace with more drugs and fewer dead people. But if all that remains of humanity are zombies and meth addicts, there really is no safe place. Stenson draws realistic portraits of junkies who will do anything for their next high; zombies are just another obstacle. VERDICT There is a certain raw power to Stenson’s language, although his descriptions range from icky to deeply horrific. This Trainspotting for theWalking Dead crowd might appeal to those willing to take a trip to the dark heart of an addict’s depravity, with zombies on the side.
Megan McArdle is the Manager for Collection Development and Adult Services, Berkeley Public Library, CA. She is active in ALA and has been chair of the Reading List Council and the Readers’ Advisory Committee. Addicted to novels, she has a lifelong love of sf and fantasy and adores when authors take chances and books get a little weird. She is working on a book for ALA Editions on readers’ advisory for genre-blenders