Monday, October 31, 2011

Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion — 256 pgs

R is a zombie living in an abandoned airport with his hive of hundreds of others like him. Though he’s much like the others who hunt and eat the living and who stand around looking slack-jawed and moaning most of the time, there’s something a little different about R. Ostensibly, he would be considered one of the undead by an outsider, but R is extraordinarily perceptive for a zombie. When he and a few other zombies stumble onto a human hideout and begin to feed, something strange happens. This hideout is filled with resistance fighters, and when R first kills and then eats the brain of a young man named Perry, he begins to subtly change even further. It turns out that Perry was in love with a girl named Julie, and from the moment R’s lips touch Perry’s brain, he discovers that he is also strangely drawn to the girl, whom he saves from the massacre and takes back to his hive under the cover of darkness. As R changes further and his emotions begin to be emboldened and heightened by Perry’s stolen essence, he starts to take great risks for Julie and she for him. This means they will both escape  from the hive and infiltrate the stadium-like city that the living have taken up residence in, moving from one dangerous situation to another. But can a zombie truly find love? And just what is this change that’s taking hold of R? Does it mean there’s an end to the virus that turns men into monsters? These questions and more will be colorfully and excitingly answered by Isaac Marion in Warm Bodies — a book that’s not only an edge-of-your-seat necrotic thriller, but a strange and incongruous love story as well.

Zombies seem to be the hot thing in literature these days, and though I haven’t been bitten by the vampire bug, I do enjoy stories about werewolves and fairies, so I thought the next logical step would be to try my hand at reading a zombie book. I chose this one because I was intensely curious about its premise and because it seemed Halloween would be the perfect time to read it. It wasn’t really a scary book per se, but there were some stomach-turning descriptions that might make a sensitive reader uncomfortable. I had a lot of fun with this book and speculated on how it would turn out the whole way through. It’s funny to be saying this, but this book, though it dealt with the undead, was very human and in some ways very touching.

When we first meet R, he’s only subtly aware that he’s slightly different than the other zombies he cohabitates with. There’s an underpinning of humanity still left in R and he questions the things about himself and the others that he can’t understand. Life is pretty grim for the zombies. They can’t really think, read or communicate, and one of the things I loved about this book was the way Marion could create deft and nuanced conversations between creatures who couldn’t speak more than four short words at a time. There was a curiosity in R that made him question himself and that enabled him to see the differences between him and the others, but it wasn’t until he consumed Perry that his spark seemed to genuinely ignite into some sort of cohesive awareness.

When R eats Perry, he basically seems to ingest the boy’s soul. That soul is not willing to give up and become food, but worms its way into the consciousness of his attacker and morphs him into something different. I got the impression that Perry had a mission and that he wouldn’t let death circumvent him from completing it. In an instant, R becomes aware of Julie and an overwhelming desire to protect her forms within him. Julie, of course, takes some time to warm up to R, and there are some touching scenes of two very different types of creatures trying to bridge the distance between them. It’s a huge feat for an author to make a zombie lovable and empathetic, because, let’s face it, he’s stinky, gory and undead, but Marion manages to make his readers care for R and Julie and their budding relationship. As they both begin to understand their predicament and try to bridge the gap between dead and undead, there are numerous moments of clarity interspersed with moments of danger.

It’s not as simple as it sounds, for Julie is one of only a few thousand survivors who’ve been trained to kill a zombie on sight, and when she decides to take him to her encampment, neither zombies nor humans are happy. But R and Julie know that something is changing, and amidst the danger and prejudice, they need to let both sides know. Soon they are being pursued by three separate groups: the zombies who are in the midst of changing like themselves, the humans, and the overseers of the undead; and each group has a different agenda. Meanwhile, R’s consciousness is blooming to life and he’s beginning to assimilate even further. What Marion does with this story and with its characters is amazing, for he crafts the kind of tale that keeps his reader marvelling at the strange similarities between two very different tribes of creatures and imbues even his mentally and physically challenged characters with a strange effervescence. There’s danger lurking around every corner, and R and Julie must dismantle it all and give these changing races a second chance.

Though this wasn’t exactly the story I had been expecting in my first foray into zombie literature, it did keep me entertained and invested. I grew strangely enamored of R, despite his obvious limitations and my initial off-putting reaction to him. The book wasn’t overly graphic but there were some scenes that could sour a stomach to a degree. I would have to say this was a pretty good read for me and it left me with feelings that I hadn’t been anticipating when it was all said and done. A very solid and strangely endearing debut. Perfect for this time of year.

18 comments:

irisonbooks said...

I have the UK edition of this waiting around on my shelves. There is something about the zombie thing that turn me off, but I'm willing to give it a try having read your review.

Beth F said...

I have had this on my list for some time. I read the opening pages, thought it seemed interesting and then ... well, I don't know what happened. :)

I like that this has a touch of humanity. Must get back to it.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

What an interesting premise! So far I have given in to vampires, werewolves, and faeries, but have avoided zombies, but I may have to dig in (so to speak) with this one! (I also keep hearing good things about Zone One)

Mrs Q Book Addict said...

I haven't read many books with zombies or werewolves. I prefer books about witches. I haven't heard of this one before, it sounds interesting. As usual, great review!

TheBookGirl said...

Stomach turning reads are definitely out of my comfort zone, lol. I can see why you reviewed this one today :)

Happy Halloween!

Sandy Nawrot said...

You listened to this on audio didn't you? I don't know if I loved this story, but it was...interesting, and entertaining. I heard it was supposed to be a tip of the hat to Romeo and Juliet. The narrator, Kevin Kennerly was fabulous (he also narrated Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter).

Harvee said...

I enjoyed reading your summary and review but I think that's as far as I'm willing to go...

Anita said...

I haven't really ventured much into vampires or zombies, thought I might try them at some point. You write such lovely reviews, such attention to detail,thank you!!

Suko said...

Great book for this time of the year! And GREAT review, as usual, Zibilee, although I'm not terribly interested in zombies (and hope they're not interested in me)! Have a happy Halloween.

Audra said...

Hmm, wow. I'm not a zombie fangirl so I totally ignored this book but your review has me reconsidering! (As usual -- you do that to me a lot! ;))

bermudaonion said...

I'm just not sure zombies are for me, but I did enjoy Feed, by Mira Grant, which featured zombies. I'll have to think about this one.

Ti said...

There have only been two zombie books that grabbed me (The Passage) and (The Reapers are the Angels). I am tempted to read Zone One, too. I had not heard of this one though.

Stacy at A Novel Source said...

your reviews are always so incredible and varied! i've seen this book around but was not sure what it was about...this is definitely a different concept! and i'm with you - i never jumped on the vampire bandwagon train!

Aths said...

Zombies are something I find it hard to get into, but from your review, this one does sound different. I'm also curious to read Zone One, but maybe next Halloween. Glad to see that this book was intriguing!

Jenny said...

LOL! A perceptive zombie who falls in love! I've seen this book before but apparently didn't read the reviews because I didn't know what it was about. I'm curious about the conversations they have!

Elizabeth said...

Beautiful blog...love your clean design.

Stopping by to take a look around.

Elizabeth

http://silversolara.blogspot.com

Darlene said...

I'd probably like this. I like zombie anything. That show The Walking Dead is one of my favorites.

Nymeth said...

This does sound like a perfect read for this time of year, as well as a little different from some of the zombie stories you see.

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