I guess Black and Larbalestier have been debating the merits of zombies vs. unicorns on the Internet for a while now, but I missed the hoopla until it finally spilled over into this anthology of twelve stories. At first, I thought that each story would be a death match between a zombie and a unicorn, but that would have gotten old fast, so I’m glad instead that each author represents a side: on Team Zombie, it’s Alaya Dawn Johnson, Carrie Ryan, Maureen Johnson, Scott Westerfeld, Cassandra Clare, and Libba Bray; on Team Unicorn, it’s Garth Nix, Naomi Novik, Margo Lanagan, Diana Peterfreund, Meg Cabot, and Kathleen Duey.
I’ve read a lot of zombie stories (and seen a lot of movies), but my experience with unicorns is more limited: Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn, and Holly Black’s short story “Virgin”, and . . . that’s about all I can remember. So, I was actually looking forward to reading the unicorn stories, just to see what’s out there in the modern day, but I ended up on Team Zombie anyway. I don’t know if I find zombies more interesting because I enjoyed the stories more, or if I enjoyed the stories more because I find zombies more interesting, but it’s still the case: overall, the zombies won out.
I liked all of the zombie stories in this collection, but my top ones were: “The Children of the Revolution”, by Maureen Johnson, the zombie babysitting story which was funny and creepy and had a killer ending; “Bougainvillea”, by Carrie Ryan, which is set in the same universe (after the Return) as her two novels and continues her excellent storytelling; and “Prom Night”, by Libba Bray, which had a subtle, disquieting ending as doomed teenagers, after all of the adults in town have been quarantined or killed, attempt to soldier on with the high school tradition of prom.
For the unicorn stories, the one I really liked was “The Care and Feeding of Your Baby Killer Unicorn”, by Diana Peterfreund, which is set in her Rampant universe and definitely made me want to read the novel. Several of the stories explored the dangerous side of unicorns, but this was the one I felt did it best. I also enjoyed Meg Cabot’s “Princess Prettypants” as a kind of as tongue-in-cheek, light-hearted revenge fantasy, and I thought two of the others – Margo Lanagan’s and Kathleen Duey’s – were both disturbing in a good way.
I thought it was curious that a lot of the zombie stories I liked had a strong romance element, involving zombies of various sentience levels, while several of the unicorn stories focused more on their dangerous side, often as a vengeful judge/punisher of wrongdoing.
Cover comments: Honestly, this book should sell based on the cover design alone. The cut-out of the zombie fighting a unicorn, and the cartoonish but graphically violent scenes of their death match ranging over hill and dale, is some of the best I’ve seen. Not only does it effectively present the focus of the book, it’s hilarious and eye-catching. It’s like looking at an I-Spy or Where’s Waldo book, but with a sick twist.