Saturday, April 26, 2014

[Review] The Beautiful Dead by Daryl Banner

She’s dead.
In fact, the whole world’s dead. Every single person, apparently. Unburied and reimagined into a beautiful living-dead woman called Winter, she is doomed to spend the rest of eternity in a quaint, peaceful city with no hunger, no sickness and no bills to pay. Her Second Life is perfect in every way possible.  So why is she so bent on destroying it all?

After angering the mayor, befriending rebel headless teenagers and igniting romance with a dark and brooding neighbor, she finds herself wrestling madly with a First Life she cannot remember and this Second Life she cannot accept. Not to mention the maniacal army of rotting corpses who want her dead. Again.

But none of that matters in comparison to an even worse problem. There’s a guest in her house. A rude, good-looking man on the run ... a man with a heartbeat.

The Beautiful Dead is a wonderfully written book about zombies with a creative twist.  I'm not a zombie connoisseur, but I've read my share of post apocalyptic zombie stories.  This book takes our notion of zombies and turns them on their head.  This addition to zombie lore is an important one, and a story that you don't want to miss.

Winter is a newly raised undead.   She was not bitten by another zombie.  She did not contract some horrible disease that makes her eat other people.  She was raised from the earth, previously dead.  Winter has no recollection of her first human life.  She is fixed up to appear human and given a home in the undead city of Trenton, which is governed by the Mayor.  Winter quickly meets and engages in a relationship with the handsome Grimsky who seems to answer her questions in half truths.  She makes friends from the forever teenaged Anne to the helpful neighbor Jasmine.  Read carefully - every character has an impact on this story.

Knowledge is not power.  It is a prison.  And with it now, I envy every ignorant soul in this city.

The world building in The Beautiful Dead is intricate and full of imagery.  The author's descriptions paint a picture of the contrasts between life and decay.  Trenton is a city of pretenders.  The undead of Trenton must survive under an extreme list of rules.  Breaking the rules are grounds for expulsion from the city.  The Mayor and the Judge enforce these rules.  The superficial surface of Trenton is marked by the undead pretending to be alive:  eating food they don't need, can't taste and cannot digest; acting their physical age; getting "fixed up" if they lose a limb or have an accident; going home to a warm bed every night even though they don't require sleep.  

What you must see, no matter what you actually see, is not who you were but who you are.  It's who you aren't.

There are other forces at play in this novel.  There are humans still alive and trying to eek out a meager existence.  The undead are told that humans no longer exist, although Winter never believes it.  She is proven correct when the dashing John enters her life.  There is also another zombie camp - the Deathless.  The Deathless are lead by their King who is anti-pretending.  He embraces death and none of the Deathless are allowed to fix themselves up.  They are required to appear as the rotting corpses that they are.  The Deathless also have a secret - a vile practice that allows them to feel alive for short periods of time.  To see clearly, taste, smell, etc.  They are barbaric zombies, rounding up humans and punishing other undead by wicked means.  They employ a Warlock that gives the Deathless control over their detractors.  The Deathless King has a great interest in Winter and develops a plan to capture her.

That underneath all this prettiness, there lie corpses.  Underneath our flawless complexions, fettering flesh that belongs in the earth.

The writing in this book is wonderful.  From the intelligent characters to the landscape, it is well written and will keep your interest.  My favorite part, though, is the intricate interaction between the three camps:  The Undead, the Deathless and the Humans.  I enjoyed how prejudices were overcome and trust was forged.  There were also a few surprises that kept me flipping the pages at warp speed.  This book is full of betrayals and dealing with the ugliness of past lives.

The themes included in this book are powerful.  The idea of your real self vs. your pretend self is front and center throughout the entire novel.  Also, the idea that a person should be judged for who they are now and not for who they were in the past is explored in depth.  We also see a glimpse of what regret can do to a person.  One character realizes that they failed in their human life due to pretense and how that regret shaped them in their undead second life.

The Living Dead world, you come to learn, is just a bunch of actors, and a regretfully bad show of acting.  Maybe life was like that, too.  Actors, playing the role of themselves.  Life's greatest contradiction is also death's.

The ending of this story was epic, filled with fighting, action and self-realization.  Most of the character's story lines were wrapped up nicely.  Here's my problem:  Is this meant to be a stand alone book or is a sequel to follow?  We are left with a bit of vagueness regarding two major characters.  I didn't quite understand how things ended with Winter and why.  There are still several questions I have regarding the novel that were left unanswered and I'd really like another book to clear things up.

What place can a living - anything claim that won't by time's devices soon expire anyway?  It is everything's final destination, no matter which paths are taken.

If you are a fan of urban fantasy, zombies or post apocalyptic worlds, then I urge you to give this book a try.  The writing is beautiful and intense.  Author Daryl Banner weaves together a buys plot line seamlessly.  The characters are genuine, fresh and intelligent.  I am looking forward to more from Banner.


Faye M. said...

You know, I'm a real zombie fan. I think in 2012 alone I've read 30 zombie books in a row that I've grown some sort of immunity to them, like somehow nothing can surprise me anymore. Your review of this book sure changed that though, as I'm not finally interested in a similar premise once more. You totally make this book sound so good! Thanks for your insights!

Faye at The Social Potato Reviews

Bookworm Brandee said...

I am not a zombie reader - but I just might read this! It sounds very interesting - well-written, entertaining and fresh. Excellent review!

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