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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Hungry for Your Love: An Anthology of Zombie Romance Edited by Lori Perkins



Hungry for Your Love: An Anthology of Zombie Romance Edited by Lori Perkins
Publisher: Ravenous Romance
Genre: Paranormal
Length: Full Length (340 pgs)
Other: M/F
Rating: 3.5 cherries
Reviewed by Phlox

In the pages of HUNGRY FOR YOUR LOVE, the very first zombie romance anthology ever, you'll find romantic stories about loving a zombie, love stories between zombies and a tale of love and lust during the zombie Apocalypse. There are funny zombie stories, a zombie story that will make you cry, and even a few that might make you blush. We have zombie noir and zombie paranormal romance. You will be amazed at the scope of zombie lovin'. There's something for everyone in this star-studded collection, including stories by New York Times best-selling authors John Skipp (writing as Gina McQueen) and Brian Keene.

The best part about themed anthologies is the challenge it creates for the authors to stay within the theme set before them and I can’t think of any greater challenge than creating short stories about Zombie Romance. The sheer, wonderful weirdness of the concept attracted me. There are some incredible stories in this anthology, which I wish I could have rated separately, but essentially the stories fall into several main categories: the zombie apocalypse, zombies among us, zombies integrated into society, zombie as human love interest, and the traditional Caribbean stolen-soul zombie. I’m going to try to pick the best of each group here.

As a disclaimer, I want to mention that I think I may not have had the final version of this anthology. Some editing still seems to be missing. No cover art was included (which disappointed me, I truly wanted to see that!) and there are far more stories here than in most anthologies, with twenty-one stories. A more selective picking and choosing would have alleviated some of the feeling of repetition and would have made a tighter, more compelling group of stories. As it stands, the reader will be hard-pressed to remember all of them.

Of the zombie apocalypse stories, unfortunately, many followed too-familiar paths. There have been so many movies and books on the theme that, by now, the sub-genre has fallen into predictable patterns, clich├ęs that are a bit too well worn. There was one exception:

Last Times at Ridgemont High by San Francisco resident Kilt Kilpatrick. Kilpatrick revels in taking bits of pop culture and twisting them into pretzels, and this darkly funny story is pressed from that mold. With a non-traditional but resourceful hero, a high school full of zombies (who were just as dangerous to our hero before the apocalypse erupted) and a non-traditional romance, which is definitely not the one the reader expects, this is a roller-coaster romp through the necessary elements of the genre.

In the ‘zombies among us’ group are the stories that contain zombies as an agent of menace, but not to apocalyptic levels. Some of these were too dark to be called romances, others simply failed to say much new or intriguing. There were some gems here, as well, though:

Inhuman Resources by Jeanine McAdam plays upon the feeling many office workers have of feeling like inhuman zombies stuffed into grey boxes, and takes it to its extreme conclusion, turning the office workers at this insurance agency into actual zombies. Darkly funny, with an interesting budding romance to boot.

Some New Blood by Vanessa Vaughn isn’t dark comedy as much as it is dark irony. I won’t give anything away except to say it’s beautifully paced and written in such a way that the reader is led from one thing to the next with growing anticipation, and then left chuckling at the end and feeling very guilty about it.

The ‘zombie as human love interest’ grouping had authors making some of the most interesting choices. When it’s all said and done, this is the hardest route to take. Love with a zombie just sounds icky, but with some adjustments in mythos and world building, several proved it could be done well.

Later by Michael Marshall Smith – Perhaps the most poignant story in the collection, this one is simple: a tale of deathless love and acceptance of one’s mate no matter what happens. Well-written and bittersweet, this was an excellent choice to end the collection. Always end an anthology on a strong story.

I Heart Brains by Jaime Saare – The hero isn’t technically a zombie by the story’s end, though not technically living his original life either, but this is a solution that was original and worked for me. With sympathetic characters and engaging dialogue, I was more than willing to suspend a bit of disbelief here.

Through Death to Love – Another sweet zombie tale (I can’t believe I just said that) where the relationship is one I would never have considered: zombie and his speech therapist. In the end, it’s a short, well-constructed piece about a sweet soul trying to adapt to a world in which he doesn’t quite fit in. Which of us can’t identify, or at least empathize, with that?

Of the zombies as part of society group, there were two outstanding, very different pieces:

Revenants Anonymous by Francesa Lia Block – Part tongue-in-cheek irony, part cautionary tale, part true romance, this story about two people who meet at an RA meeting says as much about modern life as it does about zombies. Letting one drab day melt into another, walling ourselves off emotionally, never reaching outside ourselves, we may all be going to RA meetings soon.

Eye of the Beholder by Stacey Graham – At first glance merely a black humor piece about two people who are, quite literally, falling apart. There is an underlying message regarding what love is willing to accept even when society is not that I found quite touching.

Finally, we have the traditional zombie, where a sorcerer has stolen the person’s soul. There are only two stories I can place here, but I enjoyed both of them:

Undying Love by Regina Riley – Not quite traditional, since the zombie’s heart has been cut out and held by the sorcerer rather than just his soul, but without it, he can’t die. The story unfolds for us slowly, why this happened to him and the terrible consequences of his actions. A poignant and beautiful story told through the eyes of a cynical young woman who finds that, perhaps, she’s not as cynical as she thought.

White Knight, Black Horse by Mercy Loomis – The only true traditional zombie story in the collection, in the sense that it concerns the old practices, complete with the loa and bokors. This is an immersive and exciting story told from the zombie’s POV, a young man who abandoned his training as a houngan, a voodoo priest, for the lights of the big city. The narrator’s voice is so consistent, the telling so beautifully done, that the reader feels in the moment with the characters. This was my favorite story in the collection, no question.

The answer to the question, can zombie romance work? Yes, in the hands of some inventive, imaginative authors, it can. I know, it sounds rather grotesque at first, but some of the solutions writers have devised and some of the plot lines contained in this anthology have made me a believer. Give zombies a chance.

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