Right now, I wanted to blog about two books about Supernatural Creatures I am not addicted to, but keep sort of gently swaying away from and then back to. To wit: zombies and werewolves. I want to love them. I always want to find my ideal zombie or werewolf book.
And I have found many excellent ones! Carrie Ryan's dystopic zombie series starting with The Forest of Hands and Teeth. Annette Curtis Klause's Best Werewolf Novel Ever Blood and Chocolate. Daniel Waters's Passing Strange, which surprised me by changing narrators and telling the third book in his zombie series from the point of view of a zombie femme fatale. I've never been totally sold on his heroine and hero Phoebe and Adam, but I loved Karen past the telling of it, and I loved the fact it had girls liking girls, which I'd love to see more of in YA. (I keep asking for zombie boyfriends, but I am completely willing to accept zombie girlfriends. Uh. Generally. In books. Don't call me, zombies.)
Feed by Mira Grant
These are not the zombie boyfriends or girlfriends you're looking for. What this is, is the ideal zombie book for nerds.
I say this as a high compliment, because behold, I am a nerd. And reading this intricately thought out world was just a delight. The zombie virus was created via the unfortunate overlap of a cure for cancer and a cure for the common cold! Animals above a certain mass can be infected!
And also, I mean every word I say: it's a fabulous zombie book. I loved all the little details and back story that only a book could provide, and this book celebrates the written word more than almost any other book I've ever read. I'd love to see a movie of Feed, but it could never be as excellent as the book.
In Feed, bloggers helped save the world. More and more people get their news from blogs (I do). In the world of Feed, when traditional news networks were still talking about hoaxes and going by a policy of not creating panic, the blogs posted the facts about zombies and the rules of how to survive. In this new world, which posits a civilisation being rebuilt around the zombies, our hero and heroine, Georgia and Shaun Mason, are the first blogging team ever invited to follow the campaign trail of a presidential candidate. And then it begins to look like someone's creating planned zombie epidemics. (I love it when mystery/thrillers are added to sci-fi/fantasy. Two great tastes that taste great together.)
GEORGIA: I have zombiefied eyes so must wear sunglasses, a dry wit and a relentless commitment to the truth. Also, I am named after George Romero... the saviour of mankind.
SHAUN: It is never stated whether I am named for Shaun of the Dead, but I sure hope so! I am a wild, crazy, risk-taking blogger who - good gracious, a zombie just grabbed my cardigan-
GEORGIA: Shaun do not poke the zombies how many times must I tell you? You are on a warning.
GEORGIA AND SHAUN: Also for Sarah's benefit, we are a messed-up brother and sister pair who nevertheless love each other very much.
GEORGIA AND SHAUN: Also this zombie tale has something all zombie narratives should have: black humour. I mean on one level, our parents' biological son was killed by a zombie golden retriever - hilarious. But on the other - he was six, and our parents' hearts are dead, and they clearly do not love their adopted children.
GEORGIA AND SHAUN: Also this zombie book pulls no punches. No seriously. You will cry. On an airplane. You'll try to do it sneakily... but the guy sitting beside you will clearly know. And he'll be pretty uncomfortable.
A lot of people told me to read Seanan McGuire (Mira Grant is a pen name for her zombie books, she also writes the Rosemary and Rue urban fantasy series under her own name.) I can only say that they were right.
Raised by Wolves by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
If Feed is in a tiebreak with Carrie Ryan for best zombie book of the decade, Raised by Wolves has best werewolf book of the decade sewn up.
It is unquestionably my favourite werewolf book since Annette Curtis Klause's Blood and Chocolate. (And if you haven't read that, read it! And under no circumstances whatsoever see the movie don't do it just don't do it I am warning you, sometimes I still hear the deviant European werewolves screaming...)
BRYN: Oh adopted leader of the werewolf pack daddy, who is that handsome new werewolf boy you are keeping in a cage?
ADOPTED LEADER OF THE WEREWOLF PACK DADDY: Bryn, he's dangerous.
BRYN: But I am mysteriously drawn to him. Am I forbidden to see him?
ADOPTED LEADER OF THE WEREWOLF PACK DADDY: Obviously.
BRYN: Oooh, the lure of the forbidden.
ADOPTED LEADER OF THE WEREWOLF PACK DADDY: Obviously you must stay away from him until you can take down an unhinged werewolf with your bare hands and a variety of weapons.
BRYN: So I'm not going to sit here and pine about forbidden love?
ADOPTED LEADER OF THE WEREWOLF PACK DADDY: That would cut in on your exercise regime.
BRYN: Oh God my bones.
ADOPTED LEADER OF THE WEREWOLF PACK DADDY: Think of this as werewolf boot camp.
BRYN: But I'm not even a werewoooooooo-
ADOPTED LEADER OF THE WEREWOLF PACK DADDY: Pack on your heels! THINK FAST!
BRYN: ooooooh my god I'm going to dieeeeee but maybe it is aweeeeesooooooooooome...
ADOPTED LEADER OF THE WEREWOLF PACK DADDY: Now you can see your caged boy toy.
CHASE: Hello. My name is Chase. I have just met you, and I LOVE you!
BRYN: Seems reasonable to me. I'm really awesome. I've been to werewolf boot camp. Do you want to come meet my best friend, a blonde bombshell werewolf with a gun, and defeat evil?
CHASE: Yes. I would also like to make out.
So, most fantasy books do the regular thing of the Outsider Narrator who stumbles onto the fantasy world and who things need to be explained to. Most famous examples of same: 'Harry, you're a wizard' and 'I've been seventeen for a very long time.' This is because that's the easiest way to do things - that way you get a narrator the reader empathises with, and the writer can explain their fantasy world via the other characters to the narrator.
There is also the Insider Narrator, in which a fantasy book has a character who knows everything about the secret fantasy world, is kind of terrible at the outside normal world, and in which the worldbuilding has to be done with lunatic care. I kind of love this, but it is tricky! One example: uh, my first book, written by Sarah 'Bites Off More Than She Can Chew' Rees Brennan. A more talented example: White Cat by Holly Black.
Jennifer Lynn Barnes does a GENIUS thing in Raised by Wolves, with a narrator who is both inside and outsider. Bryn isn't a werewolf, but she was raised by werewolves, so she knows how the secret fantasy world works, but from a position of being slightly outside it. The hero Chase, a brand new werewolf, is a lot more clueless than Bryn.
My very favourite scene is when human Bryn runs with the pack: she's exhilarated, scared, one of them and yet not one of them. You're able to empathise with her perfectly, and in that moment, the werewolves seem so real.
In short, Feed and Raised by Wolves both had monsters in the family, a brilliant take on monsters I don't always cotton to, and beautiful writing. Score for the zombies and the werewolves.