6 Zombie Books That Every Reader Can Enjoy
Despite their reputation for mindless gore, zombie books can be a lot more nuanced than you expect. Zombie and vampire fiction often shine a light on our greatest fears and can make us think and feel in unexpected ways.
Sometimes you need a book that gives you something new from old monsters, so I’ve put together this reading list, just in time for Halloween, of my favourite zombie books that bring something new and wonderful to the genre.
The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey
The Girl with All the Gifts is a zombie novel like no other. It tells the story of Melanie, a young girl with hopes and dreams of a future outside the walls of her special school, where she and her classmates are strapped to wheelchairs and escorted to class at gunpoint.
Occasionally her classmates disappear, but that’s just part of life. Instead, Melanie enjoys school, reads stories, and tells all her hopes and dreams to her favourite teacher – until their lives change. Then, Melanie must finally come to terms with who she is, and her place in a changing world.
This novel will make you question your ethics, what defines your humanity, and highlight what a real possibility the end of the world is. It’s mature zombie fiction that raises questions about just what it means to be human.
I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
While not strictly a zombie book (the primary antagonists of this story are called vampires throughout), I Am Legend bears more resemblance to genre depictions of zombies than not.
I Am Legend is a book about a lone survivor of a viral outbreak that has turned the world into what the book calls ‘vampires’. Dr Robert Neville barricades himself in his shelter at night for protection, but during the day, he stalks and hunts the undead monsters that also call the city home. But sometimes, the monsters aren’t all that they appear.
Matheson’s book is a wholly original take on the vampire genre, and was hugely influential in creating the zombie genre. Zombie great George A. Romero cites I Am Legend as the inspiration for his Night of the Living Dead, and its influence can be clearly seen in other zombie staples like 28 Days Later.
It’s a philosophical book about what it means to retain your humanity in the face of overwhelming odds. It packs an emotional punch and will stay in your mind long after you’ve turned the final page.
Feed by Mira Grant
Feed is the first book in Mira Grant’s Newsflesh series. It’s got all the chaos that you love in zombie fiction, but adds an interesting political and technological element. It’s set in a world in which zombies are present, but isn’t actually about them – at least not just them.
Feed follows the story of Georgia Mason, a journalist who runs an online news blog. She, her brother Shaun, and their friend Buffy follow and report on the campaign trail of a Republican senator and presidential hopeful, only to discover a conspiracy that involves the very zombies that have become such a part of their lives.
Zombies are the backdrop to a mature, nuanced story about political ideology and the responsibility of the media. They serve the story, rather than the other way around, and Grant’s world-building is some of the best the genre has ever produced.
Feed is full of twists and turns, and will keep you guessing every step of the way.
Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion
Sweet and beautiful are not words that you would usually associate with a zombie book, and that’s exactly how I would describe Warm Bodies. It’s a tale of romance and rediscovering not just one’s humanity, but the very things that make someone a person.
Warm Bodies follow the story of R, a newly dead zombie, who has no memories of his life before death, and no sense of identity — until he meets Julie, who brings light and life into his world. At first, she’s his captive, and then his guest, but can their relationship overcome the very obvious differences between them?
The premise and narrative arc of Warm Bodies is relatively simple. But it’s told in such a cheerful and heartfelt way that it’s just a joy to read. It’s a zombie love story about what it really means to live.
The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan
If you want a book that’s empowering, thrilling, and an absolute page-turner, then The Forest of Hands and Teeth is the book for you. It’s the first book of a YA dystopian thriller, and it sits firmly within that genre and the tropes that come with it. But the world-building and characterisation are excellent, making this more than just the sum of its parts.
Mary lives in a village, cut off from the outside by a fence that protects them. Beyond the fence lies The Forest of Hands and Teeth, a place she’s been protected from her whole life. But when the fence is breached, Mary must choose between her past in the village and a future beyond it.
Dystopian fiction is one of the most popular YA genres, but adding zombies into the mix makes for a thrilling, refreshing take on both.
The Passage by Justin Cronin
Like Matheson’s I Am Legend, the titular first book in Justin Cronin’s The Passage series is technically about vampires, but shares many similarities with books of the zombie genre. What really sets it apart, however, is that where most zombie novels begin in the aftermath of the zombie apocalypse, The Passage shows the decline into chaos as a secret government experiment brings about the fall of civilization as we know it.
The Passage spans a time period of over ninety years as we follow its protagonists through the release of a virus that slowly destroys the world, turning all of humanity into the hunted, vs the prey. Humanity builds colonies to protect each other from the threat of the infected, the superhuman zombie/vampire-like creatures who hunt them.
The novel is grand in scope, using several narrative devices, for different elements of its storytelling. It covers a huge time period, but Cronin’s masterful world-building means that the story is never hard to follow. The characters are wonderfully developed, and despite being firmly in the horror category, The Passage is hopeful.
Cronin is a masterful storyteller.
If you’re a fan of zombie books or are new to the genre, there’s something in this list that everyone can enjoy. So why not ring in Halloween with a horror novel? Have you read any of these, or have recommendations of your own? Join our Discord server or let us know on social media!
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