Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Zombies vs. Unicorns! What More Could You Want?

Zombies vs. Unicorns edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier (Margaret K. McElderry, 2010, 432pp.)

First, there was the strange yet intriguing debate of Pirates vs. Ninjas. Now, editors Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier present Zombies vs. Unicorns, an anthology of six zombie stories and six unicorn stories selected to answer that ages-old question: do the undead have what it takes to beat those one-horned wimps to the title of “fan favorite”? Or will the power of rainbows wipe the floor with our brain-munching friends? The anthology consists of a wide variety of interpretations on these creatures. Although some of the usual stereotypes may appear, let it be known that the unicorns won’t always be tame and sparkly (Diana Peterfreund’s “The Care and Feeding of Your Baby Killer Unicorn”), and the zombies won’t always be mindless drones (Alaya Dawn Johnson’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart”).

There are some stories here that truly shine. The gems of this collection rely on strong characters and creative twists, instead of using the mythical creatures of choice as the main attraction. Zombie-lover authors Cassandra Clare (“Cold Hands”) and Carrie Ryan (“Bougainvillea”) deliver dark, traditional stories; Alaya Dawn Johnson serves up an intense but playful zombie love story (“Love Will Tear Us Apart”), while Maureen Johnson pokes fun at celebrity adoption and Scientology in “The Children of the Revolution,” the comedic horror story of a young woman who is hired by an Angelina Jolie-type actress to keep watch over her horde of adopted zombie children. Naomi Novik’s irreverent unicorn tribute, “Purity Test,” is nicely complemented by Meg Cabot’s “Princess Prettypants,” a sweet, earnest, and riotously funny teen romance reminiscent of The Princess Diaries. Unfortunately, this anthology proves to be a mixed bag in terms of quality. The outstanding stories are accompanied by mediocre duds that take themselves too seriously (see Scott Westerfeld’s “Inoculata,” Garth Nix’s “The Highest Justice,” and Diana Peterfreund’s “The Care and Feeding of Your Baby Killer Unicorn”). Margo Lanagan’s “A Thousand Flowers” recounts a flat, rather two-dimensional romance between a unicorn and a princess; Kathleen Duey’s “The Third Virgin,” offers a strange but uninteresting twist on the interaction between the world’s only unicorn and the unsuspecting virgins that stumble across its path. The last piece in the anthology, Libba Bray’s “Prom Night,” depicts life in a town taken over by kids after their parents turn into zombies, and is about as full of potential as a flat tire. While you may find yourself skimming through some of the stories, most pieces are guaranteed to be entertaining (if not exactly original or thought-provoking). Recommended for Ages 16-Up for use of Language, Violence, and Suggestive Situations.

Click on cover for image source.