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Saturday, July 23, 2011

Review of Zombies vs. Unicorns Edited by Holly Black

~It's a question as old as time itself: which is better, the zombie or the unicorn?

In this anthology, edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier (unicorn and zombie, respectively), strong arguments are made for both sides in the form of short stories. Half of the stories portray the strengths—for good and evil—of unicorns and half show the good (and really, really bad-ass) side of zombies. Contributors include many bestselling teen authors, including Cassandra Clare, Libba Bray, Maureen Johnson, Meg Cabot, Scott Westerfeld, and Margo Lanagan. This anthology will have everyone asking: Team Zombie or Team Unicorn?~

Zombies vs. Unicorns was my pick for collection of short stories for my 2011 YA Challenge. I actually only picked it because it was what I saw a lot of other people participating in the challenge were picking. I had no idea who Holly Black was before that day.

Generally I'm not a big fan of anthologies. I usually find there is maybe one or two good stories, and the rest are typically pretty crappy. I guess I have to readjust my way of thinking after reading Zombies vs. Unicorns. This was probably the best collection of stories I have ever read. I have to give credit to Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier for pulling this together.

And check out this book trailer. Hilarious!

I think what really made this collection enjoyable was the banter that was weaved throughout. There are two very clearly defined "teams" - "team zombie" and "team unicorn". I was really impressed by the list of contributors, a lot of great authors submitted stories to this anthology. Unfortunately before I even started reading I felt the urge to side with team unicorn, not just because unicorns are awesome, The Last Unicorn and Legend are great stories/movies, but also because I noticed Cassandra Clare was writing for team zombie. Don't get me wrong, Cassandra is a great writer and I love her books to pieces...I've just had issues with her spoiler dropping and the anger I feel is still too raw...but anyhow...

The introduction starts of introducing the two teams and where the idea came from. I had no idea this was apparently a long debated topic! It's interesting and entertaining how Holly and Justine keep bickering and bantering back and forth about the merits and flaws of each other's team. The back and forth continues before every new story and creates a nice flow throughout the anthology that is typically missing, and possibly why I typically dislike collections.

Another thing I dislike about anthologies, and this is my issue and not the fault with the book itself, is I feel the need to rate and review each story separately, not finding it quite fair for each story to be based on the anthology overall grade. This is very time consuming and why I don't do this very often.

Now on with the ratings!

Team Unicorn - 22/30:
The Highest Justice by Garth Nix - 5/5
This was a great story. I love medieval times and stories that take place then. I enjoyed the basis that only the "true" and "faithful" can see the unicorn. Great writing style. Highly enjoyable.
Purity Test by Naomi Novik - 2/5
This story wasn't anything special. I wasn't overly fond of the dialogue or the flow of the story. However I did like the little dig about fairyland at the end of the story.
A Thousand Flowers by Margo Lanagan - 4/5
This story was interesting and disturbing all at the same time. I did find it jolting when the author jumped from one character to the next to tell the story. I understand why she did it, but it was very distracting. I did really enjoy the beautiful old style language that was used. The underlying suggestion of bestiality might bother some readers.
The Care and Feeding of Your Baby Killer Unicorn by Diana Peterfreund - 5/5
I cannot tell you how much I loved this story. I have discovered a new author I just HAVE to read! (I already rushed out and bought both of her killer unicorn novels.) I just loved the whole world Diana created where unicorns are real, everyone knows it, but they are terrified of them because they are evil killers of DOOM! You have to read this story. It was amazing!
Princess Prettypants by Meg Cabot - 3/5
This story was enjoyable, but not fantastic. It's actually a little ridiculous, but I know the author meant for it to be that way. I mean rainbow farts and jingling hooves? Entertaining but not something I would want to read more than a few pages of.
The Third Virgin by Kathleen Duey - 3/5
This story disturbed me greatly. I can't even put my finger on why, but it did. And it wasn't in a good way. I had to force myself to finish the story because the unicorn creeped me out so bad I didn't even want to read any further. I just didn't like it. The writing was well done however. I did like the girl's character at the end though. Strong character.

Team Zombie 18/30:
Love Will Tear Us Apart by Alaya Dawn Johnson - 1/5
I couldn't really get into this story. I was often confused as to what was supposed to be going on, and I didn't like any of the characters. I felt no emotion toward any of them, and that's never good. To me it never became clear what the father had done to be so evil. Perhaps I missed it. The main characters are homosexual males, which might offend some readers.
Bougainvillea by Carrie Ryan - 5/5
I'm not even going to lie. I love Carrie Ryan's zombie novels, and I went into this short story already knowing how awesome she would pull it off. And she didn't disappoint! I never saw the end coming, even though I know I should have. I love it when that happens. Great story!
The Children of the Revolution by Maureen Johnson - 3/5
This was a pretty good story. It had a nice flow and had very realistic characters. For some reason I kept picturing Angelina Jolie as the mother. I'm not sure that was exactly what the author was going for, but that's who I envisioned. I'm not sure about the stupidity that leads to the peak moment or about how things end up...but the writing was solid.
Inoculata by Scott Westerfeld - 2/5
This story didn't do much for me. It was enjoyable, but nothing overly special. I'm not sure how I feel about the ending. The main characters are homosexual females, which might offend some readers.
Cold Hands by Cassandra Clare - 4/5
I wanted to hate this story, because as mentioned I have a personal issue with the author. Lucky for her, her writing is just too good to for me not to enjoy. The story was very predictable, but well written. I loved the characters and connected well with them. It was hard not to love the lead male, even when he was all zombified.
Prom Night by Libba Bray 3/5
This story was well written, but I felt like I was lead on in so many little ways. It felt like so may story lines were created, but never tied up...the mother, the tunnels, Robin, etc. The author has a good writing style, and I will most likely look for some novels written by her in the future, I just feel like she tried to tackle too much in this short story.

So there you have it, as predicted Team Unicorn has stolen the show. It wasn't based on bias, it really wasn't, I just enjoyed most of the unicorn stories more!

To put this into some perspective however, my 13 year old son is currently reading this collection and clearly believes that I am insane and we are not related because he feels the zombies kick some serious ass.


My rating?

4 super scribble spiders out of 5!


  1. I don't usually get into short stories, but I might have to make an exception for this. What a brilliant title!

  2. I know exactly what you mean. I rarely ever read them, but I am really glad that I had to for this challenge. It was an amazing collection of talent.

    Thanks for reading!

  3. This is awesome. I'm sure my students will love it.

    Interesting comment about anthologies. I can agree. And suddenly you've made me nervous about the anthology into which I was recently accepted. Hopefully people will weed through the other stuff to get to my story (because it's one of the brilliant ones, of course :)

    Fun post. And I'm impressed that you rated each story.

    Paul D. Dail

  4. Thanks Paul. I feel it's only fair to rate each story. A really great story can be drowned out by the really bad ones, and I think every story has the right to shine (or sink) on their own merit.