Lilith Grey has spent her entire life living below ground–among the lucky descendants of the humans who escaped there before catching the virus that turned the rest of humanity into monsters from fairy tales. But one day Lilith and her friend Emma get temporary vaccines and go above ground to a tourist theater to view these vampires and shapeshifters in person. When everything goes horribly wrong, Lilith finds herself whisked away from the carnage on the back of a werewolf. Can she ever get back below ground?
I was hesitant to accept a YA book for review, since the genre is not one I tend to enjoy. But I had previously read and thoroughly enjoyed a book by this indie author, so I decided to give it a go. Her other work, Hungry For You, is a collection of zombie themed short stories that manages to put a fresh twist on that genre, so I was hoping for more of that unique glint in her YA work as well. This, her first full-length novel, is more unique than what is currently saturating the market, but I did not feel that it lived up to the expectations I had based on her short story collection.
The basic concept is intriguing. Many post-apocalyptic stories feature humans living in bomb shelters or other similar underground enclosures but not for the reasons put forth in this novel. This unique twist is what I’ve come to expect from Harte’s writing, and it definitely was the part of the story that kept me reading. Seeing how the mutated humans lived above ground versus how the non-mutated lived below ground was intriguing and interesting. I wish more time had been spent building this world and less on the emotions of the main character (not to mention her friend, Emma, and the werewolf, Silver). The scifi explanations for the fantastical creatures was also engaging, but again not enough time was spent on it. Similarly, while the typical werewolves and vampires exist among the infected above ground, there are also the more unique such as the ewtes who mutated to live in the water but can walk on the ground with water tanks. Actually, I could have easily spent an entire book among the ewtes. They were far more interesting than our stereotypical main character Lilith. The world and minor characters are what kept me reading….not the plot or main characters.
The initial plot set-up is painfully stereotypical. Clueless teenage girls wind up in danger. Two men save them. One is an angst-ridden werewolf. The other is a mysterious, handsome intelligent fella. The girls protest they can care for themselves but the reader can see they can’t really. The main teenage girl feels inexplicably pulled to the werewolf angst man. The werewolf angst man feels drawn to the teenage girl and angsts about it. And on we go. The last few pages of plot, thankfully, didn’t take the typical turn, but honestly the pay-off was incredibly minor compared to the rest of the stereotypical YA plot. Even just making it a teenage boy from below ground saved by a female werewolf would have been a change enough to make me more interested. I also was disappointed to see no depth or examination of the human condition here, which I saw in Harte’s previous work. I was excited to see what depth she could bring to YA but she didn’t even bring an empowered female main character to the genre. Quite disappointing.
Ignoring my own quips with the plot and main characters, the book simply does not read like a solid first entry in a series. It gives the reader mere tastes of what we want to know from a first book in a series, like who the DEI are and why everyone is afraid of them, while lingering on things like how the main character craves the werewolf. That is fine if it was a paranormal romance, but it feels more like it is meant to be a post-apocalyptic/dystopian style novel. A clearer world needs to be established and characters more fully fleshed-out if they are to hold up a whole series. There has to be a clear world and a three-dimensional main character set up before the danger if the reader is to feel any connection or caring at all. As it is, I mostly just wanted to wander off and follow the ewtes.
Overall, then, this is definitely a book for YA fans only. It’s the basic plot from YA with a twist set in a unique future world that was fun to visit. YA fans will have to try it out for themselves to determine how much they will enjoy that visit.
3 out of 5 stars
Source: Kindle copy received from author in exchange for my honest review
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This is a solid collection of short stories and poetry that can be enjoyed one at a time or inhaled in one sitting. I went for the one sitting option.
In some stories Harte sticks to zombie tropes but in not all. The ones where she varies or surprises the reader in some way are definitely the stronger ones. She has an ability to imagine multiple different possible zombie apocalypses that are all, if not equally believable, still believable. Her dialogue is a definite strength, reading as incredibly realistic in the midst of fantastical happenings.
Where she excels though, and where I would encourage her to focus future horror writings, is when she uses the zombies and zombie apocalypse as a metaphor or an instigator for something in a relationship from women’s perspective. My three favorite stories from the collection–“Dead Man’s Rose,” “Seven Birds,” and “Alive”–all feature this element. In “Dead Man’s Rose,” the zombie is a metaphor for an abusive lover who refuses to grant the woman her freedom. In “Seven Birds” the surprise of the zombie apocalypse coincides nicely with an unexpected break-up (I particularly enjoyed that female character’s reaction to both). In “Alive” the female character must deal both with the zombie apocalypse and the emotional fall-out after a one-night stand with a co-worker. These are all three things modern women face in relationships and getting to see them take place in a world infested with zombies (one of my favorite kinds) was such a welcome change! Too often, especially in zombie movies, we see the apocalypse from a man’s perspective and not from a woman’s. I found myself saying to Harte in my head, “Ignore the male perspective and switch to just writing from the female perspective, because you do it so well!” For instance, it’s not every day in a female zombie fiction fan’s life that you come across a resonant passage like this:
When I am lonely for boys what I miss is their bodies. The smell of their skin, its saltiness. The rough whisper of stubble against my cheek. The strong firm hands, the way they rest on the curve of my back. (location 1206)
Never have I come across a passage in zombie fiction that so struck at the heart of what it is to be a modern straight woman, and to have that followed up by oh no zombies was just awesome.
There are a few shortcomings though. A couple of the stories simply felt too short, and a couple of them–“A Prayer to Garlic” and “Arkady, Kain, & Zombies”–just didn’t make much sense to me. I think the former would have benefited from being a bit longer with more explanation, whereas the latter actually felt too long and had a couple of plot holes that I couldn’t wrap my mind around. This collection is periodically more British than at other times. One short story revolves around tea to an extent that I’m afraid a Boston gal like myself just couldn’t quite relate to. I know that those more British stories will definitely appeal to the type who love Doctor Who for instance, though. I also really wish it included a table of contents. That would be super-helpful in revisiting those stories readers would like to revisit.
Overall this book is definitely worth the add to any zombie fan’s collection, but particularly to female zombie fans. It’s different and fun simultaneously.
4 out of 5 stars
Source: Smashwords copy from the author in exchange for my honest review