A guest review by Jenre
A fantastic horror novella set in a frightening future where mankind has been all but wiped out by a virus and zombies rule the streets, but which also contains a sweet romance filled with hope for the future.
Jay didn’t expect to be one of the very few survivors of the virus that decimated the country, leaving shambling, ravenous zombies behind. Fighting for his life amongst the dead, he keeps moving until the day he’s surrounded and facing his bloody end—and shockingly, another zombie saves him. But not just any zombie… it’s Dave, the first man Jay ever loved, and there’s something special about him even now, in the midst of the horror around them.
I have to admit, I’m a bit of a sucker for post-apocalyptic sci-fi books, especially those which chart the disintegration of society. It gives me a shiver down the spine to read about just how close society is to total melt-down. When I was a teen I loved John Wyndam’s books, especially Death of Grass and Day of the Triffids. Why am I telling you all this, you may ask? Well, just that this novella by one of my favourite m/m authors fits exactly into that ‘recovery and survival in the face of disaster’ mould that can be found in those books by John Wyndam. Unsurprisingly, I loved this book.
I Fell in Love with a Zombie begins with our hero and first person narrator, Jay, coping with the aftermath of a swine flu virus which has wiped out most of the world, including his lover, Mike. Not only that, but some people who have supposedly died of the flu come back to life after a couple of days. These ‘zombies’ have limited speech and motor skills, but most horrifying of all, for no reason they attack humans with a lightening speed and superhuman strength. Jay battles with grief over Mike and the unknown fate of his family as well as surviving in a world littered with dead bodies and zombies who want to kill him. In desperation, Jay decides to leave the city in search of other humans. On the way he encounters many dangerous situations, not all due to zombies, and finds love in an unexpected place.
As I said earlier, I loved this book. It contains many classic elements which can be found in post-apocalyptic survival books and I was delighted every time I came across one of these well loved parts in the story. Firstly, there was the theme of survival with Jay having to do things that he would never have done otherwise. At the beginning of the book Jay recounts the first time he had to kill a zombie who was attacking him. At the end of the account he says:
Was this what my life was going to be from now on? It was enough to make me wish I had died with everybody else.
It’s not only rampaging zombies, Jay also has to cope with other survivors, never knowing who to trust, and yet desperate for some contact to ease his loneliness. In some ways these scenes were the hardest to read as Jay is treated badly by those with whom he hopes to find some companionship. It was heartbreaking. Jay’s loneliness is a constant presence throughout the first part of the book as he tries to come to terms with the fact that his life has been overturned in less than a month.
Another theme which I enjoyed is that of the journey that the hero has to take to find some semblance of peace. Jay travels from town to town by taking a discarded car and driving it until the petrol runs out. On the way he encounters different situations before finding someone with whom he can settle. Even then life isn’t easy for Jay and Dave, and it isn’t long before they have to continue their journey. This gave the book a pacey feel as the setting moves from place to place with our heroes. It also meant that there was a lot of action in the book which counterbalanced the slower parts as Jay muses on what has happened to him, and the section where he and Dave meet and begin to fall in love.
Given what I’ve written above you might think that this would be a maudlin and slightly depressing read. Whilst parts of it were undoubtedly sad, as Jay copes with his grief and life alone, Jay is actually quite an optimistic character, with a strong sense of purpose. This injected the story with a bright shaft of hopefulness as Jay moves on from each difficult situation in the hope that the next situation will have a more positive outcome. I liked Jay a great deal, liked his willingness to see the best in others, even when they treated him badly and his pragmatism that life must go on, so make the best of what you have. As narrators go, Jay is incredibly sympathetic and likeable and this went a long way towards my great enjoyment of the book.
One word of warning for those of a slightly squeamish nature. There are several gruesome parts in the story, especially those involving Jay and the zombies. Personally, I felt this fit well with the genre of the book and I’m not particularly squeamish and so those bits didn’t bother me at all. I liked that the author hadn’t chosen to wash over some of the more unpleasant aspects of life within a time of chaos, such as the stench of rotting bodies or the sorrow that whole families lay unburied. I also liked the depiction of the zombies, that they were disgusting and brutal, but also that, for some at least, there was a trace of humanity.
Whilst reading this book I experienced a whole wealth of emotion. At some points I felt genuinely frightened, at other points angry. I felt joy and happiness for Jay and Dave, but also sadness for them – even crying at one point. I completed the book feeling overwhelmed, knowing that I’d read something extremely well written, that moved me. If you like sci-fi, horror and stories set in a post apocalyptic future, then this book is an absolute must. I thought it was brilliant!