Black, Holly & Justine Larbalestier (ed) Zombies Vs Unicorns (2010). 415 Pages. Simon & Schuster. $16.99
The thing which actually made me want to read this anthology was Diana Peterfreund’s addition “The Care and Feeding of your Baby Killer Unicorn,” which is set in the same universe as Rampant. However, I am glad I took the time to read this, since I enjoyed almost every story in the book (at least on some level.)
The offerings are mixed, but are all labeled as either “Team Zombie” or “Team Unicorn,” with only one (I think) that has both zombies and unicorns. Additionally, the top corners of the pages are also marked by either a Zombie or Unicorn logo, making quick-scans for specific stories easy. A few of them were sweet, one or two romantic, and a couple actually bleak. I’m glad I took the time to read this, though.
First we had “The Highest Justice” by Garth Nix (Team Unicorn, with a touch of Zombie). A Unicorn helps a princess Zombify her mother– the queen– to bring her killer to justice. It’s a solid story, but it’s not really amazing. It didn’t “wow” me or leave me wanting more, but it also felt like a complete story, which counts for a lot.
There was Alaya Dawn Johnson’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart” (Team Zombie) which is a slightly-twisted, fairly-dark interpretation of what happens when a thinking-Zombie meets a human they can’t eat. It’s a bit twisted, and a little on the dark side, but it’s also a very interesting take on zombies.
Naomi Novik’s “Purity Test” (Team Unicorn) reveals that not all unicorns are completely obsessed with virginity. Some of them can actually be quite practical. And when baby unicorns need saving, non-virgins may be the best option. The dynamics between Alison and Belcazar make the story work, and keep it fun.
Carrie Ryan’s “Bougainvillea” (Team Zombie) is set in the same world as The Forest of Hands and Teeth, and her story “Hare Moon” (from Kiss Me Deadly). This time, however, it’s set on the island of Curaçao, from the point of view of an island dictator’s daughter. It’s a story of determination and survival, and what people will do to stay alive.
“A Thousand Flowers” by Margo Lanagan (Team Unicorn) is a twisted tale of the love between a unicorn and a princess. It was far from my favorite, and actually grossed me out a little.
“The Children of the Revolution” by Maureen Johnson (Team Zombie) is about a famous actress and her children, and the “nanny” she hires for them. I don’t know what else to say except that the children are zombies and the “nanny” is the last one to figure it out. It’s a slightly scary take on the possibilities of zombie-cults.
Diana Peterfreund’s “The Care and Feeding of your Baby Killer Unicorn” is, as I’ve said, the reason I wanted to read this anthology. I could care less about whether Zombies or Unicorns triumph. Wendy has found herself a baby unicorn, one which will eat people when it grows up. Despite this knowledge, Wendy can’t bring herself to kill Flower, it’s just a baby and she cares about it. It fits nicely into the world established in Rampant, but could stand alone as well.
Scott Westerfeld’s story, “Inoculata” (Team Zombie) is another dystopian zombie-infested future story. Allison lives on a government pot farm in the middle of Mississippi with a few other survivors. Their complex is surrounded by fences, which are surrounded by zombies. Somehow, the teens discover an immunity, and they take that as an opportunity to escape.
“Princess Prettypants” by Meg Cabot (Team Unicorn) is about a seventeen year-old girl getting a Unicorn for her birthday. She’s not too happy about this, since she really wanted a car. However, the story is told with Meg Cabot’s usual style, and it manages to be an unexpectedly funny unicorn story.
Cassandra Clare’s “Cold Hands” (Team Zombie) is about one town which is afflicted with the zombie curse. Not all the dead come back, and when they do, they are treated as second-class citizens. When James dies, Adele knows it’s not an accident, and she becomes even more suspicious when James doesn’t return, so she takes things into her own hands.
“The Third Virgin” by Kathleen Duey is the last Unicorn story of the volume. It is not a happy unicorn story, rather it is a dark one. Apparently unicorns can be dark and selfish and cruel just like humans. It’s an interesting take on unicorns, and seems to round out the anthology well. I don’t know that I like it much, but it does have its place, and does well here.
The last story in the volume is Libba Bray’s “Prom Night” which is, fittingly, a Team Zombie story. It is about a town full of teenagers– the adults all having succumbed and become zombies long ago– and Tahmina’s struggle to keep them going. She represents “the law,” in that she has taken the role of police officer. She tries to keep the town going, to keep things under control, and in a lot of ways she succeeds.
I was impressed by this anthology, moreso than I was expecting to be, since it has gotten some mixed reviews. Many of the stories in the anthology were the sort I like, with strong narrative, good characters, and some solid conflict. Some of them grossed me out, and I would have been happy to avoid them. A few of them were bleak, a few hopeful, and overall, I was glad I’d taken the time to read this. Sometimes you read a book, or an anthology, and wonder if it was worth the time it tok.
Sometimes, in clearly gimmick-y books like this one, you wonder if the hype is because of rabid fans who can’t help picking up everything even vaguely related to their obsession. You know the type, the teens who read every YA Vampire book no matter how terrible. Luckily, despite the gimmick, this book managed to be fun.
There were a few design choices which I found interesting; the cover is a very elaborate drawing of a war between zombies and unicorns, the end-sheets reflect the same drawing but in black-and-white. The dust-jacket is only a 3/4 cover, and the page corners are marked by either zombie or unicorn labels. Author names are in hand-drawn script, and as a whole the effect is interesting, to say the least. It makes it a very fascinating book from both a design standpoint and a reading standpoint.
When all is said and done, I want to give this volume a 4/5. A few stories were amazing, and I’d love to read them. A few were acceptable, and a few (which I’ve mentioned) I didn’t really like. Obviously different readers will have different opinions, but on the whole I think this is a decent anthology, worth at least reading.