Review: Alice in Zombieland by Gena Showalter

Alice in Zombieland

Book One of The White Rabbit Chronicles

by Gena Showalter

Young Adult | Fantasy | 404 Pages | Published by MIRA Ink in 2012

| Rating |

An Alice in Wonderland retelling you say? With zombies? What’s not to like?! Well, quite a lot actually. But this will probably cure me of my habit of judging a book by its cover… and title… and tagline. Whilst this isn’t a terrible novel – I am sure there are people out there who would love it – it really wasn’t a book for me. The first half of this novel left me angry that I’d even bought it in the first place but, once I had forgotten how irritating I found the narrative style, the other half was actually quite fun.

She won’t rest until she’s sent every walking corpse back to its grave. Forever. 

Had anyone told Alice Bell that her entire life would change course between one heartbeat and the next, she would have laughed. But that’s all it takes. One heartbeat. A blink, a breath, a second, and everything she knew and loved was gone. 

Her father was right. The monsters are real. 

To avenge her family, Ali must learn to fight the undead. To survive, she must learn to trust the baddest of the bad boys, Cole Holland. But Cole has secrets of his own, and if Ali isn’t careful, those secrets might just prove to be more dangerous than the zombies.

First and foremost, Alice in Zombieland is not a retelling. Beyond the protagonist being called Alice and her brief glimpses of a rabbit shaped cloud, it has nothing to do with Alice in Wonderland at all. No Mad Hatters, no tea parties, and not one person’s head is offed! But enough about that. This is a tale about a young girl who has lost everything. Her family, her innocence and her world come crashing down around her when her father’s apparent delusions become terrifyingly real. Alice must decide whether to live a life on the run in constant paranoia, or to stand and fight.

Alice in Zombieland takes an interesting spin around our general concept of ‘the zombie’. In this novel zombies are spiritual beings who attack and feed off the human spirit. There are people who can see such creatures, who can fight them with their own spirit form – Alice’s father was one – and after tragedy strikes, Alice is thrown headfirst into the same crazy and dangerous world. Whilst the premise of spiritual and ghostly zombies is an interesting one, the scare factor could have done with being turned up a notch. This perhaps has more to do with descriptive style though than the plot, which was at its strongest during these scenes.

The story is told through Alice, or Ali, a sixteen year old girl whose apparent intelligence is undermined by her vacuous narrative. The narrative, for the most part, is vapid and irritating, the text talk is infuriating and I am physically repulsed by the word ‘smexy’. Shudders. This novel, which can only be likened to a teenager’s diary, should have an appeal to certain readerships – those who like romance novels, fans of this YA style and other teenage girls – but for me it felt insincere and lacking the depth that makes first person narration work well.

And of course! This novel has a less than sensible dose of adolescent romance. Cue the instalove, the dark, dangerous and brooding guys (who can only be tamed by one woman) and an endless stream of verbal diarrhoea extolling their virtues. Romance is not and never will be my thing. And if you’re going to have visions of the future, I can imagine a thousand things more useful than a continuous loop of two sixteen year olds getting off with one another. But hey, what do I know.

When the action kicks in however, perhaps half or two thirds of the way through, there is a marked improvement in the narrative style. The plot develops an intriguing element as the opposing ‘hazmat’ side come into play and starts to build up an over-arcing storyline which will presumably play out in the next novels. Though it could have used some more tension and more of a scare factor – that’s more description of the zombies and fight scenes rather than what’s under Cole Holland’s shirt – once the story gets into its flow (and out of the high school) it actually becomes quite enjoyable.

Alice may not be one of my favourite protagonists but she does have her moments. When taking a backstep from the romance, the emotional qualities of her character are much starker, more painful and more real. The love she has for her family, the sorrow of her loss, and the pain and guilt over her last words to them are woven throughout the story and add a little of that much needed depth to her tale. On the other hand, the hoard of other characters felt a little generic. I didn’t particularly like or dislike any of them, in fact, with the exception of Alice’s grandparents, none of them made me feel much of anything at all. Except irritation.

Alice in Zombieland is a novel which, if I had known what it was like, I probably wouldn’t have read. The zombie plot was captivating enough to keep me going to the bitter end but it wasn’t enough to make up for the hours I spent reading it. There will be readers who find Alice quirky rather than vacuous, who will love the romantic storyline and swoon at Cole Holland’s supple sixteen-your-old man-child chest. Just not me. And the worst thing of all – I already own Alice Through the Zombieglass.

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Review: Red Rising by Pierce Brown

Red Rising

Book One of the Red Rising Trilogy

by Pierce Brown

Young Adult | Science Fiction | 382 Pages | Published by Hodder & Stoughton in 2014

| Rating |

Over the past few years I’ve managed to unintentionally avoid most of the popular young adult dystopian releases – something about hyped novels clearly deflects my attention. That was until Red Rising turned up as the September book of the month for Dragons and Jetpacks. Having, despite the hype, heard very little about it, I cracked Red Rising open with very few expectations and… wow! This novel seriously blew me away. In a debut novel full of repression and vengeance, Pierce Brown manages to surpass all expectations (if I had any at all!). Red Rising is beautifully written, imaginatively crafted and heart thumpingly brilliant.

The Earth is dying. Darrow is a Red, a miner in the interior of Mars. His mission is to extract enough precious elements to one day tame the surface of the planet and allow humans to live on it. The Reds are humanity’s last hope.

Or so it appears, until the day Darrow discovers it’s all a lie. That Mars has been habitable – and inhabited – for generations, by a class of people calling themselves the Golds. A class of people who look down on Darrow and his fellows as slave labour, to be exploited and worked to death without a second thought.

Until the day that Darrow, with the help of a mysterious group of rebels, disguises himself as a Gold and infiltrates their command school, intent on taking down his oppressors from the inside. But the command school is a battlefield – and Darrow isn’t the only student with an agenda.

Red Rising is a tale of division and repression. The Golds are the conquerors, the glorious leaders who have elected themselves the superior race of humanity. Those who lie elsewhere on the colour spectrum find themselves confined to their caste, unable to climb socially or politically and treated as subhuman by those above. The Reds have it worst of all. Toiling deep underground, they labour under the pretext that they’re making Mars habitable for humanity, a lie perpetuated by the Golds to ensure their continued servitude.

But Darrow and the Sons of Ares plan to bring down the system from within and will do almost anything to free their people. Brown has created a dark and unforgiving field on which to play his characters. This is a harsh land full of harsh people, where only the strongest survive and the most determined rise to power. Those in the way are disposed of dispassionately, both Reds and Golds alike.

This is a novel written with skill and excitement to create a fast paced and thrilling plot; Darrow’s rage and pain filtering throughout the narrative. And though the pages seemingly fly by, this isn’t a novel to rush; the detail Brown puts into his worldbuilding is well worth the time and attention. The characters may carry the novel  and drive the plot but this dangerous and alien planet is described with vibrancy and unobtrusive detail. Pierce Brown can almost do no wrong. Almost. Just one (repeated) phrase – ‘picking his butt’. No.

Darrow is a brilliant protagonist, full of fire and passion, anger and vengeance, sorrow and guilt. It’s incredibly easy to get swept along with his narrative, to empathise with his plight and feel his burning anger towards the Golds. The complete somersault of Darrow’s universe, the necessity for him to change and become someone, or something, else are all etched out in beautiful prose as his character grows and develops. All Brown’s characters feel real and, through friendships and allegiances, brutal tests and grim reality, Darrow’s preconceptions are repeatedly tested to create a complex and exciting novel which bristles with tension and leaves you wondering just where it all might lead.

This is one novel which certainly lives up to its hype; if you’re a fan of dystopian science fiction then Red Rising is sure to impress, and though the opening chapters are deceptively reminiscent of other well loved (and obscenely popular) novels, persevere! – This book stands in a league of its own. Goodbye Red Rising, hello Golden Son!

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