Terry's Reviews > Zombies Vs. Unicorns

Zombies Vs. Unicorns by Holly Black
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's review
Jun 27, 11

bookshelves: 2011-books, cdcs-young-adult
Read in June, 2011

A consistently entertaining, well-written YA short story collection with a clever premise: the stories alternate between zombie and unicorn fiction. The editors set it up as a sort of competition--which makes things simple for this review. It all boils down to just one question: Zombies or unicorns, who makes for the more interesting story? And, the winner is...

Well, before that, a quick run-down of the stories:

The good: "Bougainvillea" by Carrie Ryan about the governor of Curacao's daughter escaping a zombie attack. Ryan balances description with emotion nicely, keeping things subtle and not going overboard. Other writers take note--restraint, and complicated, not completely likeable characters are the way to go (zombie); "Purity Test" by Naomi Novik--a girl and a unicorn team up to rescue baby unicorns from an evil wizard in a story dripping with amusing sarcasm (unicorn); Garth Nix's "The Highest Justice," a fantasy story in which the king's daughter and a unicorn seek revenge on her philandering father. This is probably the best example of pure fantasy lit in the collection (unicorn); "The Children of the Revolution" by Maureen Johnson, a perfect balance of humor and horror, in which a teen abroad takes care of a wealthy celebrity's zombie children (zombie); "Princess Prettypants" by Meg Cabot, another story that uses humor to good advantage--a girl's 17th birthday present, the unicorn of the title, helps her take revenge and save a friend at the party of her class rival. It's definitely not the most refined story in the collection, but it's the most fun--from the High School Musical-themed party put on by the protagonist's uber-religious parents to the description of an enraged unicorn crushing a cell phone, Cabot's having a blast and so is the reader (unicorn); "Prom Night" by Libba Bray, in which two teens are police on patrol during prom night. It seems that all adults have become zombies, so now it's up to the teens to fend for themselves. Who organized the prom in the midst of this chaos? Aren't there other concerns the teens should be thinking of? Yes, the reader might want these logical questions answered, but it's Bray's well done melancholy tone that pulls off this story despite lingering questions (zombie).

So far, it's 3 to 3!
On to the flawed stories: Both Diana Peterfreund's "The Care and Feeding of Your Baby Killer Unicorn" and Scott Westerfeld's "Inoculata" have great premises and strong execution. In the former, a girl discovers that she has special powers that allow her to communicate with unicorns--a helpful power as unicorns are killer beasts in this story. After causing the deaths of her cousins, she both tries to atone and makes the situation worse by saving a baby unicorn, which she proceeds to raise in her garage. In the latter story, four teens in a former government marijuana farm learn that they are inoculated against the zombie hordes waiting outside, and they hatch a plan to escape. The problem with both stories--great build-up, great description, but with conclusions that leave the reader hanging. Just when both stories are getting good...they end abruptly with no payoff!

5 to 5!
The 'meh' stories. Overdone, with an extra heaping of angst: "Love Will Tear Us Apart" by Alaya Dawn Johnson, a gay love story between a human and a zombie. The pity-me/I-just-want-to-die narrator wears thin really quickly. This is the same problem with "The Third Virgin" by Kathleen Duey, about a suicidal unicorn. I'm sure there might be a way to write about suicidal unicorns and zombies, but these are exactly what you'd expect: two downers that are just not as interesting as the other stories in the collection.

Still a tie!
The deciding factor--the bottom of the heap: Margo Lanagan's overwritten "A Thousand Flowers," and Cassandra Clare's underwritten, overly emotional "Cold Hands." In the first tale, a princess almost bears a unicorn child, and...well, nothing really happens. The multiple narrators, interesting setup, and attempt at description, make it more interesting, however, than the second story. In Clare's tale, after an evil ruler kills a boy fated for power, the boy's girlfriend helps his zombie self escape a coffin prison and rise to power anyway. I suppose it could be an interesting allegory, but the Twilight-esque prose sinks the tale. The protagonists suffer from blandness, and plot is oddly paced--it starts off much too quickly, and then lurches along. It's not terrible, though, and thankfully, too, it's one of the shortest in the collection (there was plenty of room for good descriptive writing and maybe that allegory!).

So, it's a tie! If there has to be a winner, however, I'm going with Team Unicorn, by an..um...horn. The angsy-y love stories in the zombie side weigh it down, making them as a collection a little heavier, and a little too close to current vampire fiction. I keep coming back to "Children of the Revolution" as perhaps the best story in the book (somebody goes for satire and does it well--and it's still scary!), but the variety of the unicorn stories, and the strength of Nix, Novik, and Cabot's stories tip the scales for me. Sorry, zombies!

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