Zombie fiction is a healthy publishing sub-genre, and there are enough books out there that it's tough to know where to start. Here's a list of our favorites, plus a few hints about books to avoid.
The Newsflesh series by Mira Grant — We've written many, many, many words about how much we love this book series. If you haven't already checked out this scary, surprising zombie/news/politics mashup, what are you waiting for?
The Walking Dead comics by Robert Kirkman — The graphic novels and the TV show are two very different entities, so if you think you know what to expect based on AMCs series, you're wrong. Dead characters are still alive, and living characters are dead. Rick Grimes and company struggle in a violent, grim and hopeless environment, and you can't help but speed through the pages to see how they're able to keep the last vestiges of humanity intact.
Find more worthy reads after the jump.
The Clockwork Century series by Cherie Priest — This is another series we've mentioned a few times. Set in an alternate United States in 1880, it imagines a world where the Civil War has dragged on for decades, zombies have taken over an abandoned Seattle, and steam-powered machines roam the land. Yes, it's the perfect combination of zombies and steampunk, and it features strong, interesting characters — particularly the women.
Rot and Ruin by Jonathan Maberry — This is the first book in a YA series about a teenager living in the post-zombie world and learning about himself, his family and the darkness lurking at the edges of the society he inhabits. It sounds pretty generic as a coming-of-age story, but it's told with identifiable emotions and strong writing.
Hollowland by Amanda Hocking —Ebook publishing phenom Hocking has this book available for free for the Kindle as of this publication date, so you can download this zippy little novel and try it for yourself. Lead character Remy is tough but compassionate, and you'll enjoy tromping through zombie-infested lands with her. Unfortunately, book 2 in the series, Hollowmen, is a disappointing follow-up. Still, the first book is a strong entry in the zombie genre, and at that price, you won't regret picking it up.
Cell by Stephen King —Here at Stellar Four, we like to draw attention to the young, struggling authors who deserve wider attention from the public, like this King fella. Kidding, of course. Like many King stories, Cell tosses in some truly head-scratching plot developments in the last third of the book, but the initial chapters describing the outbreak are terrifying. Come on; you know you've always wanted to see how King would tackle zombies.
The Disillusionist series by Carolyn Crane — The "zombies" here don't come into play until book 2, Double Cross. In Crane's world, "High Caps" have amazing abilities like telepathy and telekinesis, and for one baddie, the ability to control people through their dreams. And this villain likes to turn his vics into sleepwalking cannibals. So they shuffle and groan and rip people apart, but they are asleep. They're still alive, just under another's control and they're eating people! That's f'ed up.
Heart of Steel (Iron Seas 2) by Meljean Brook — Iron Duke was very intense, but book 2 is more just action adventure. Will Yasmeen & Archimedes escape death by zombie? Of course! They are awesome! This is also notable as a romance where the hero is not an Alpha male. That doesn't happen so often in the paranormal romance world. (Pictured is the UK cover because it features Yasmeen and she is kickass.)
My Life as a White Trash Zombie by Diana Rowland — Honestly the only book with a tolerable zombie lead (except for maybe Raising Stony Mayhall). Plus, it helps to be a Diana Rowland fan. Also one of the rare zombie books where becoming a zombie is actually a good thing for the character.
Not every zombie book is a winner. Below are a few that are well loved by many readers but that just didn't hook us the way the other books did.
The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan — This is a YA zombie book that's too simplistic for even the Y-est of As. There's a love triangle! The heroine just doesn't know which boy she likes! Oh, whatever will she do? And oh my, there are zombies! It's a shame, too, because the setting is intriguing: A generation after the undead uprising, humans live in isolated villages surrounded by chain link fences. Questions are discouraged, and there's no contact with the outside world. But do the town elders have secrets they'd like to hide? Such potential, marred by such simplistic writing.
Day by Day Armageddon by J.L. Bourne —This has amazing reviews on Amazon, and it may well be up your alley, too. But the writing is abysmally amateurish, the pacing veers between laggy and rushed, and the author fetishizes guns and military maneuvers a bit too much for non-military-minded readers.
The Living with the Dead series by Jesse Petersen — This is another book series that suffers from odd pacing. Run-ins with ill-intentioned humans that should've taken chapters to build to a climax are over in a blink, and the zombies are dispatched with surprising ease. There's some humor in the writing, but the bad guys are comically obvious and the main characters are too thinly sketched.
Happy Hour of the Damned by Mark Henry — Amanda Feral may be the least pleasant lead character ever to grace the printed page. Does Henry really think women are so catty, vain, shallow, judgmental, vulgar, mean-spirited, competitive and cruel? Maybe some of them are, but it's certainly not pleasant to spend any time with them, whether or not they're walking, talking zombies. If the book were a satire, then the privileged zombies' smug, routine slaughter of applicants at the local welfare office could be perhaps understandable. But satire seems unlikely; the better explanation is Henry's shocking tone-deafness toward what's fun to read and what's simply unpalatable.
Note: Books with zombie sex are on the No List. Rowland's book technically has zombie sex, but since the zombies aren't rotting, it gets a pass. Anything where limbs fall off, skin ruptures, and maggots erupt is a no. Such is the case with S.G Browne's short Zombie Gigolo. While it might fit as a parable for the dangers of the worlds oldest profession, the sheer nastiness puts Browne's other zombie tale Breathers: a Zombie's Lament on the do not read list.
What zombie fiction is on your must read or must skip list?
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