Summer Shorts: Zombies vs. Unicorns

Summer Shorts - zombies vs unicorns edition

Artwork from Zombies vs. Unicorns

Summer Shorts is weekly feature of short story/novella reviews, posted every weekend of July and August, 2011. Every week has a different theme – be it featuring a specific anthology, a particular genre, or a great author.

Last week I reviewed some great Kelley Armstrong stories, and this week I’m featuring two stories from the infamous anthology Zombies vs. Unicorns.

The Highest Justice by Garth Nix

Thoughts: I feel as though I got the “wrong” thing out of The Highest Justice.  Nix was probably aiming to impress upon the reader how unicorns represent a higher, well, justice. Their purity of form being the physical manifestation of righteousness – dispensing out justice even when it is rather gruesome.  I have no idea where he was going with his zombie so, needless to say,  I didn’t get it.

And while his unicorn idea is a great one, I can’t say it carried me through this particular tale.  No matter how many invisible, violent unicorns appeared – nor how many flesh-eating members of the royal family tried to take a bite out of people – my overwhelming impression of the plot was one of “meh”.

So what did I “get” out of The Highest Justice?  2,000 words of pure, unadulterated fantasy – complete with kings guards, royal betrayals and quite a bit of horseback riding.  Coming straight out of reading The Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin, I’d been wondering what high fantasy YA novelists were out there… apparently I need to start reading some Nix!

Bottom line? A refreshing bit of high fantasy – Garth Nix may be worth further investigation.

Favourite quotes:

Jess drew her sword and kicked her palfrey into a lurching charge. She caught the surviving bandit just before he managed to slip between two thorny bushes, and landed a solid blow on his head with the back of the blade. She hadn’t meant to be merciful, but the sword had turned in her sweaty grasp.


Purity Test by Naomi Novik

Thoughts: Oh my goodness, this was brilliant! Naomi Novik really needs to set up shop and teach other YA writers how to deliver a short story, because Purity Test?  It had everything I could possibly want from a tale!

First off, it was funny as hell. I was reminded of Shrek, only with unicorns instead of donkeys and, er, more awesomeness. If I had highlighted all the quotes I wanted to share, the entire story would have been life jacket-yellow.  As such, I managed to restrain myself:

“Where did you come from, anyway? Like, Fairyland or something?” The unicorn turned its head and gave her a blue-eyed glare. “Yes. Fairyland,” it said, dripping sarcasm. “Fairyland, where the fairies and the unicorns play, and never is heard a discouraging—”

The unicorn brightened, which Alison had to admit was something to see. “Are you a lesbian? I’m pretty sure that doesn’t count toward virginity.”

Don’t you just want to read it right now? I sure would have after that!

Second reason for Purity Test‘s awesomeness? Pacing and editing. Introducing new characters, a new universe and describing the plot? It’s a hard thing to do in only a few thousand words. A lot of novelists, quite frankly, can’t do it. It doesn’t make them bad writers, just bad story short writers. Naomi Novik, it turns out, is both a fantastic novelist AND an amazing short story writer. She throws us straight into the plot, a provides 3D characters and a hysterical universe to enjoy.  I was left wanting another story, but not a continuation of the one I’d just read.  Per-fect.

Bottom line? Novik had be at the first sentence and kept me enthralled until the very last line. Zombies vs. Unicorns is worth buying just for this story!

Review: The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

Review: The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie RyanThe Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan
Series: The Forest of Hands and Teeth #1
Published by Gollancz
Pages: 310
Genres: Dystopian YA, Young Adult
Source: Purchased myself
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In Mary's world there are simple truths. The Sisterhood always knows best. The Guardians will protect and serve. The Unconsecrated will never relent. And you must always mind the fence that surrounds the village; the fence that protects the village from the Forest of Hands and Teeth.

But, slowly, Mary's truths are failing her. She's learning things she never wanted to know about the Sisterhood and its secrets, and the Guardians and their power, and about the Unconsecrated and their relentlessness. When the fence is breached and her world is thrown into chaos, she must choose between her village and her future - between the one she loves and the one who loves her. And she must face the truth about the Forest of Hands and Teeth. Could there be life outside a world surrounded in so much death?

Thoughts: The Forest of Hands and Teeth is a beautiful, terrifying book. I completely understand why people are so enamoured with Carrie Ryan’s writing!  It is elegant, poetic and well, frankly, gorgeous. This book swallowed me whole and didn’t let go until I’d finished the whole thing.

The world Ryan creates is simply terrifying. Actually, the entire book is one long nightmare.  It is a cross between The Handmaid’s Tale (by Margaret Atwood) and The Village (film by M. Night Shyamalan) – only with zombies. Scary stuff, especially for a wimp like me!

Unfortunately I was unable to relate to any of the main characters in this book. I didn’t actively dislike any of them, but I did often felt their personal dramas were an annoying distraction from the action. The romantic triangle in the book had a lot of tell-no-show aspects – referencing feelings from before the book began. It was disappointing, but probably for the best – true love can’t last long during a zombie apocalypse!

Bottom Line?  The Forest of Hands and Teeth haunting book. I’d recommend it to older teens and adults – especially those who don’t pick up “genre” books. Ryan has a way of making a book about zombies into a book about everything but zombies.

Review: Strange Angels by Lili St. Crow

Review: Strange Angels by Lili St. CrowStrange Angels by Lilith St. Crow
Series: Strange Angels #1
Published by Quercus Books, Razorbill
Pages: 293
Genres: Paranormal YA, Young Adult
Source: Gifted from someone with/without taste, Purchased myself
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Also in this series: Betrayals

Dru knows that The Real World - peopled with ghosts, suckers and zombies - is a frightening place. She's ready to kill first and ask questions later, so it's going to take her a while to work out just who she can trust.

Dru Anderson has been 'strange' for as long as she can remember, travelling from town to town with her father to hunt down things that go bump in the night. It's a weird life, but a good one - until in an icy, broken-down town, a hungry zombie bursts through her kitchen door. Dru is going to have to use every inch of her wit and training. Can she stay alive long enough to fall for one - or both - of the guys hungry for her affections?

The summary above sucks. It is the least spoilery one I could find (most give away the first half of the book). But it paints Dru in completely the wrong light. I mean, sure, she is capable of kicking ass – but she is not kick-ass. They made Dru sound like Rose from Vampire Academy – and she is so NOT ROSE.

A better summary? You know the show Supernatural? Well, imagine a less-cocky, teenage, girl!Dean – without the baby brother – hunting evil around the US with his Dad. There you have (at least the start) of Strange Angels.

Thoughts: Strange Angels is a really great addition to the YA Paranormal scene. Lili St. Crow paints a much more realistic picture of a teen living in an unreal world. Although absent, Dru’s parents play a big role in her life – and both they (and her safety) trump whatever guy she is supposed to mooning after. Strange Angels is violent, tragic, and really enjoyable – although it does go downhill towards the end.

I loved the first half of this book.  But in it, Dru is miserable – I mean, I’m-almost-an-alcoholic-teenager!miserable – and her world thoroughly sucks. Despite the temptation to just curl up and die, she is trying desperately to plough through the misery. It was amazing to read, even though it was utterly tragic. Really made me appreciate her strength. I also loved her inner Dad!voice. She would constantly think of what her Dad would say or do in a particular situation (which often involved killing things).  It made me love the guy without ever spending that much time with him.

Graves, the first boy she meets in this book – well, he’s ok. I haven’t quite worked out if I really like him, but I do appreciate how much he helps Dru. Graves has had a really hard-knock life – hell, the guy is practically homeless – but has amazingly managed to keep his head above water. I’d like to find out even more about his background in Betrayals.

Mid-way through the book, we are introduced to Christophe. He is tough, scary and not-so-human… and yeah, I really liked him! But as soon as Christophe came into the picture, Dru started to edge into the too-stupid-to-live category. There was one particular scene where Dru refused to do something for no apparent reason. I mean, it shouldn’t even have been an issue, but Dru decides it is the perfect reason to pitch a fit – and it completely blows up in her face. It was really frustrating, and I wanted to just reach through the book and shake her! (Although Graves I wanted to smack, as he agreed with her insanity.)

The last half? – maybe 3 stars. But the first half was just so great (well, actually it was miserable, but a great read) that I had to keep the rating up. I am looking forward to Betrayals and have a feeling Dru will straighten her head out a bit in that book… I am also looking forward to more Christophe!

Bottom Line? A great addition to the YA Paranormal Scene.  If you are a fan of the Morganville series then this will be up your alley!

I read this for the Battle Royale New Author Mini-ChallengeTeam Deadline Dames!