I read reviews of this book. They all warned how gross it was. I guess I just didn’t believe them. FYI: it’s gross. There are brains eaten and other zombie nonsense, bestiality, serial killing unicorns, etc. I liked that Holly and Justine were such active editors, with not only a humorous introduction, but continuing humorous debate on the topic of zombies vs unicorns in the introduction to each story. This is the most involved editorial content I’ve seen in a short story collection, and it was funny. Still gross, but funny. I am Team Unicorn, in case you were wondering.
What made me sad was that I didn’t think Team Unicorn was represented very well. I really liked the first story, by Garth Nix, which had both a unicorn AND a zombie. And Diana Peterfreund continued with another story set in her specific unicorn mythology, of which I’m not a fan, but is neither silly nor gross. But the rest of the unicorn stories seemed like either silly tongue-in-cheek unicorn spoofs or just really disturbing and gross. Naomi Novak’s story was probably my second favorite unicorn story, and that wasn’t saying much. It was funny in a silly way, and the unicorn was reasonably powerful and likable. Overall it was a cheesy story, though. Meg Cabot wrote the other silly unicorn story; it wasn’t terrible, and I suppose if you like Meg Cabot’s writing, you might enjoy it. I don’t especially, having been traumatized by the Queen of Babble Gets Hitched for book club once (and I want to know if she gets royalties for the constant, obsessive promotion of Coke products in her writing.). I liked that the story addressed bullying and sexual assault issues with a light but thoughtful hand. And the main character did mature a lot in the course of the story, which was nice. I also appreciated that both Cabot and Peterfreund captured the essence of life in a rural conservative religious culture very well, making the settings for both too familiar for me–but well written. I just wish I liked their portrayal of unicorns equally.
Margo Lanagan’s story was just disturbing, though. Really disturbing. The unicorn was barely featured in it, aside from the whole implication of bestiality, though, and the ending was very ambiguous. And yes. Bestiality. just weird and creepy. Kathleen Duey’s story was equally disturbing, in a different way, with its serial killing unicorn. I hated the main character (Justine may have been right about him being a “whinger”–a super whiner.), and didn’t really like anything else about the story, aside from maybe the mention of Wales.
And the zombie stories…well, I didn’t read all of the zombie stories. That was one of the beauties of this book. The stories are clearly marked with a unicorn or zombie icon, so you don’t have to read one or the other if you don’t want to. And I don’t like zombies. I agree with Holly that their shambling, rotting bodies, and brain eating ways are unsightly, and I disapprove of them equally, if not more, than she does. I did try to skim the zombie stories, to see if I’d enjoy any of them accidentally. Unfortunately, I opened Alaya Dawn Johnson’s story in two places that specifically mentioned eating brains, and therefore no love story could possibly convince me to read the entire story. I peeked at Carrie Ryan’s story, to confirm that it had the usual Carrie Ryan sort of story arc/ ending. Even the editors comment how it shows that “death takes us all”. No thanks. Maureen Johnson’s story both intrigued and repelled me for the Angelina Jolie-like character in the story. I am tired of her being a cultural whipping post, so I was hoping for something interesting. What I skimmed was disturbing, and the ending was just gross. Nope, not reading that whole story either.
The latter three zombie stories were much better, and I have to admit, no matter how much it pains me, that they were better stories than any of the unicorn stories. I didn’t like any of the characters in Scott Westerfield’s world, but the story was creative and compelling. I feel like it could be developed into a full book, following the events of this story, and be very interesting. Cassandra Clare’s story was, as Holly pointed out, not very traditionally zombie-like, and was better off for it. The story reminded me of Hamlet a bit, but with a small town mild zombie love story twist. I liked it. Finally, Libba Bray’s story, was, like usual, well written and diversely cast. I have to give her lots of creativity points for having a main character who was a devout Zoroastrian–and a likable character. Her partner Jeff was obnoxious, though, much like the rest of the characters, and the sense of impending doom lingers long after I’m finished with the story.
In general, this book was interesting, and something out of my ordinary reading material. I’m certainly not spurred to go read more zombie stories, but I feel a strong need to find a good unicorn story to make up for these. Unicorns deserve better! If I can’t find a good one to read, I guess I’ll have to write one myself.