Thursday, September 2, 2010

Book Review: Zombies Vs. Unicorns

Title: Zombies vs. Unicorns  
Editors: Holly Black, Justine Larbalestier
-Team Unicorn:  Holly Black, Meg Cabot, Kathleen Duey, Margo Lanagan, Garth Nix, Naomi Novik, Diana Peterfreund
-Team Zombie:  Justine Larbalestier, Libba Bray, Cassandra Clare, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Maureen Johnson, Carrie Ryan, Scott Westerfeld
Genre: Anthology, Young Adult, Paranormal, Zombies
Publisher/Year: Simon and Schuster/2010
-Webpage: Zombies Vs. Unicorns Publisher Page
-related: Throwndown of Epicness!  April's Throwndown post for Team Unicorn  and Sharon's Throwndown post for Team Zombie 
-Velvet's Zombie Vs. Unicorns Week Long Theme

Synopsis:  It's a question as old as time itself: which is better, the zombie or the unicorn? In this anthology, edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier (unicorn and zombie, respectively), strong arguments are made for both sides in the form of short stories. Half of the stories portray the strengths--for good and evil--of unicorns and half show the good (and really, really bad-ass) side of zombies. Contributors include many bestselling teen authors, including Cassandra Clare, Libba Bray, Maureen Johnson, Meg Cabot, Scott Westerfeld, and Margo Lanagan. This anthology will have everyone asking: Team Zombie or Team Unicorn?

Review:  You know the drill--individual reviews then overall.  I promise not to be swayed too strongly by my love of Zombies.  After all, I used to love Unicorns when I was like five.

"The Highest Justice" by Garth Nix
This was, for me, too short.  I haven't read Nix before, though I've heard of him, but from this sampling I think I would enjoy him quite a bit. The ending is just the right sense of irony--on all accounts--to make me want to see how things pan out for Jess.  The unicorn of this story was quite fierce, very willing to help you 'see' the errors of your ways. 

"Love Will Tear Us Apart" by Alaya Dawn Johnson
Zombies in love!  This is kind of a trend I wish that would just stop, or at least, not pair zombies with living people.  Its more than a little...disturbing to be frank.  However this was witty and full of dark humor.  Mildish warning for the fact there's a whole lot of the 'f-word' and its a same sex pairing.  The ending kind of fills me with...not any good feelings.  Its bittersweet and filled with dark possibilities. 

"Purity Test" by Naomi Novik
Ah-ha.  I'm not quite a fan of Novik's "Dragon" novels (though I do appreciate the concept), but I have liked her shorter fiction in the past.  This ran hot and cold for me; on the one hand I loved the fact that Belcazar was possibly the snarkiest thing under the sun since Daria.  Then again I wasn't too keen on Alison because a lot of stuff about her didn't add up.  We didn't get very much development on either of their sides beyond the 'now' unless they made a throw away comment.  The goblin was rather amusing as were the baby unicorns.  I'm not sure why Alison felt a need to constantly, and I do mean constantly, remind us of her non-virginity. 

"Bougainvillea" by Carrie Ryan
This is both set in her "Forest of Hands and Teeth" universe, but not quite.  Its set only a few (maybe a decade?) years after the Return (aka: when the mudo began manifesting) and it gives us a different perspective on things.  Iza remembers life before the Return, though really only vaguely.  The story is told in both the 'Before' and the 'Now', going back and forth between her memories of growing up on Curacao and the events leading up to an epiphany about not only her father, but herself as well.  The ending is...bittersweet.  She found her strength, but by doing so she lost a piece of herself.  As always Ryan made me tear up.  I think she does this on purpose. 

"A Thousand Flowers" by Margo Lanagan
Did Not Finish.  Which is fairly rare with a short story for me.  I will usually power through these because, well, they're short.  Unfortunately I got about two pages in and the narrator was still talking about finding a place to go to the bathroom (its ye olden days, so he was looking outside and refused to defecate on the 'innocent, fresh faces' of the flowers. He was drunk.) and that right there stopped me dead.

"The Children of the Revolution" by Maureen Johnson
To be fair, Johnson seemed completely normal when I met her at Book BloggerCon this past May.  You almost couldn't see that her hair is really purple, her skin is sparkly and her eyes are polka-dotted pink*.  So you know how all those celebrities are into weird cult like religions and seem to be in a race to adopt the most foreign kids possible?  Johnson gives the most likely answer.  It all makes complete sense.  I have no complaints about this story at all, it was amusing, entertaining and filled with dark humor.  

"The Care and Feeding of Your Baby Killer Unicorn" by Diana Peterfreund
I said this in Kiss Me Deadly, which included another short story set in Peterfreund's "Killer Unicorn" universe, but I really wish her longer books were as captivating as her shorter stories.  This one is set in more modern times when unicorns aren't quite as plentiful anymore.  Wen adopts herself a baby unicorn and against all odds, every rule and common sense decides to raise it.  To not be a killer.  There's mixed results.  Of the stories this one has the most obviously teen angst bisecting the plot, which mostly petered out by the final third of the story.  The two didn't quite mesh so well for me (aided possibly by the fact that there's a whole lot of referencing, but not a lot of explanation).

"Inoculata" by Scott Westerfeld
This was an off twist about a way to stave off being a Zombie.  Westerfeld mostly surprises me with his writing every time I open something of his and this didn't change that trend.  Its also the second story in the anthology to feature a same-sex pairing, which correct me if I'm wrong two same-sex stories don't often happen in the same anthology (unless the anthology is geared in that direction).  The one character, Kalyn, has some pretty interesting logic in regards to what happened to her.  Something I've often wondered about and isn't often explored.

"Princess Prettypants" by Meg Cabot
I laughed through much of this story, or at least whenever "Princess Prettypants" was talked about.  She's something a five year old riding a sugar high from birthday cake would love.  Despite the funny nature of things this is also a story with a good moral to it--don't ever trust a guy named Spank.  I joke--its really about revenge, standing up for yourself and finding what is it you really want (or need).

"Cold Hands" by Cassandra Clare
Creepy.  This story is levels of creepy, especially the ending.  It was also kind of sweet, but naive and unfocused much of the time.  Lychgate is basically its own little fiefdom in America, but why is there a Duke?  And if people can't leave, what about people who move there (for whatever reason)--are they part of the curse then as well and thus can never leave?  When did killing people become legally okay?  I had too many questions in regards to the world of this story, it kept jarring me out of the reading experience.

"The Third Virgin" by Kathleen Duey
I feel rather bad for any unicorn lovers out there who read this story.  Zombies are expected to at least be the middle ground as far as villains go.   No one is particularly surprised when Zombies act worse and are pleasantly surprised when they act better.  Unicorns?  No one expects a unicorn to admit to enjoying sucking the life out of people.  This story kind of confused me and I was ready to bolt when I saw bags and rope and sharp things, but I think it ended in a good way.

"Prom Night" by Libba Bray
Though the narrator for this story talked about hope and discussed measures that kept the teens of the town alive, something felt off about the way she observed things.  She felt melancholy.  Which, given the ending, made perfect and utter sense.  It was kind of funny to see Tahmina and Jeff try to bring some order and lawfulness to the teens of the town.  Tahmina was all serious business and Jeff was constantly joking.  Or making elaborate plans for when things went back to normal.  I hope things turn out better than the ending suggests they will.

Equally entertaining was Holly and Justine's 'commentary' before each story, giving an idea of the story, the author behind it and other useful information (like whether its zombie filled).  Some of the earlier remarks between Justine and Holly are quite biting (which is kind of at odds with how the authors seemed like in real life), but as the anthology wears on their commentary mostly involves telling the other how deluded they are for their preferences.  Its kind of like listening to a Joss Whedon commentary track--full of laughs, but doesn't really give any details away.

Overall this anthology worked really well for me.  Zombies are the clear cut winners in my mind, but I think also that there is more diversity at work in the zombie stories.

This was, with the one exception by Lanagan, a fun diverting read.  Did it answer the age old question of which species reigns supreme? of course Zombies won Well that's up to the reader to decide.  Personally, while I do admit the unicorn stories could be...amusing, Zombies still hold my heart.  Possibly literally.  I'll get back to you on that. 
(*this is a reference to an inside joke between my sister and I)