Zombies vs. Unicorns, edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier

Author: Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier, editors
Genre: YA Anthology / Fantasy and Horror
Pages: 432
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Call number: Y Zombies

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.

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Lips Touch: Three Times, by Laini Taylor

Author: Laini Taylor
Illustrator: Jim Di Bartolo
Genre: YA Fantasy / Short stories
Call number: Y Taylor
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars (really liked it)

This collection of three illustrated dark fairy tales makes for beautiful reading. All three stories — “Goblin Fruit”; “Spicy Little Curses Such as These”; and “Hatchling” — revolve around a magical, life-altering (perhaps soul-altering?) kiss, but none have the uncomplicated, “happily-ever-after” ending that I worried they might have before I opened the book.

First, let me say that it was the illustrations that drew me to this book. They are incredibly eye-catching, detailed, and delicate. I think they are a mix of pen and ink drawings with watercolor washes and possibly more media as well (it’s so hard to tell these days, and I can’t find a place where he details how he created the artwork on his web site). What I love about them are the monochromatic washes and pale colors mixed with one or two super bright images, like the red lips and ice blue eyes on the cover, for example. Each story is preceded by a set of images that intrigued me — how will these images play out in the story to follow? what do they mean? — and once I finished a story, I was inspired to pore back over the images with that knowledge. The romantic, moody artwork is a perfect compliment to the stories.

The stories themselves are written in sumptuous prose (I don’t get to say that all too often), as delicious and fulfilling as your best meal ever, prose that is elaborate when it needs to be and simple when it doesn’t. The stories have a cadence to them that I only ever associate with tales spoken aloud. They also don’t all go in the direction you initially expect, so they have some surprises.

Readers who loved The Hollow Kingdom by Clare Dunkel (and if you haven’t read that and you love strong heroines in dark fairy tales, go find it now) will be sucked into this collection, and I’m sure there are other excellent read-alike story collections, too, like Troll’s Eye View, by the estimable Datlow and Windling, a collection of fairy tale re-tellings from the POV of the villains.

No spoilers

Fire: Tales of Elemental Spirits

firetalesAuthors: Robin McKinley and Peter Dickinson
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile
Genre: YA Fantasy – Short stories
Pages: 304
Call number: Y McKinley (new YA fiction section)

I have a special love for books of short stories: I’m a huge fan of the form, but I’m sometimes daunted by the sheer number of stories in many of the thematic and “best of” collections. Somehow reading 26 short stories in one book feels longer then reading a novel of the same length. So, I enjoy collections like this one, where there are only five stories to read and they’re all by the same author (or, in this case, two authors).

This is the follow-up to McKinley’s and Dickinson’s first collaborative collection, Water: Tales of Elemental Spirits (Y McKinley). Dickinson’s three stories – “Phoenix”; “Fireworm”; and “Salamander Man” – are written with a storyteller’s rhythm, giving them the feel of legends. The word “old-fashioned” keeps coming to mind, but it isn’t really the right one – maybe “timeless” is better because it doesn’t have the negative connotations. As a nice contrast, McKinley’s stories – “Hellhound” and “First Flight” – are modern and humorous; they don’t feel weighty, like Dickinson’s, but they’re not frivolous. “Hellhound” takes place in the present day, so a modern-sounding narrator makes sense, but even the narrator in the pure fantasy story “First Flight” has a more every day, contemporary voice. I think this is why I liked McKinley’s stories so much better then Dickinson’s, even though all the stories are well-written; it’s all about tone.

Minor spoilers under the cut

The Eternal Kiss: 13 Vampire Tales of Blood and Desire

eternal_kissEditor: Tricia Telep
Authors: Karen Majoney; Melissa de la Cruz; Maria V. Snyder; Holly Black; Sarah Rees Brennan; Kelley Armstrong; Libba Bray; Rachel Caine; Cecil Castellucci; Cassandra Clare; Nancy Holder and Debbie Viguie; Lili St. Crow; Dina James
Publisher: Running Press/teens
Genre: YA Short stories/Horror/Romance
Call number: YPB Eternal (in the new teen paperbacks)

Overall, this is a decent anthology of vampire stories that will easily find an audience among the vampire-crazed. It’s got a stellar line-up of A-list teen authors, many who write urban fantasy/paranormal romance. However, there were enough stories in this anthology that I either didn’t like or felt “meh” about that I can’t say it’s a wholly successful collection. Yes, the vampires in the stories are diverse, ranging from terrifying to romantic to just plain folks, and the lore (whether they combust in sunshine, look beautiful or hideous, can or can not turn into bats, etc.) varies from story to story as well, but that’s not enough to make this whole collection a stand-out.

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Troll’s Eye View, edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling

trollPublisher: Viking Juvenile
Genre: Juvenile Fantasy, Short Stories
Pages: 200
Call number: J Troll’s (currently in new books)

I have a weakness for retold fairy tales and for short stories, so this collection of fairy tales told from the villains’ point of view was a must-read for me. Also, Datlow and Windling consistently helm the best anthologies out there, for kids and adults, and I read every one I can get my hands on. This collection has 15 stories by well-known fantasy authors for children and adults, almost all of which I’ve read at least something earlier, whether it be a short story or two or a novel or two, and it makes for quite the collection. Like all anthologies, there are a few weak stories, or maybe I should say a few stories I didn’t enjoy as much as the others, and a few stories that really stood out.

Continue the review