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.