Zombies! Fantasy princesses! Royal ass-kicking! I was super psyched to read this one. It’s not often that a book has an intersection of so many good genres – in this case, horror, fantasy, and YA. Is YA a genre? I’m gonna go with yes. So let’s dig in.
This book had a very slow start for me. The first chapter starts off with what should be a bang and instead reads like a whimper; the author keeps focusing away from the action to impart unnecessary information. How much do we need to know about the palace sewer system, when what I really want to read about is how the cook is chewing on the prince’s face? It makes the danger less immediate and really kills any burgeoning momentum from taking place. For the first chapter all I want is go juice. After a slow start it picks up a lot of steam and we really get into the meat (ha) of escaping from a zombie infestation. Many heroisms are had, revelations are revealed, and zombies are dispatched in the time-honored tradition we have all come to know and love (headshots! Even in fantasy YA).
The genre is a smashing (ha – okay I’ll stop) hit for me, but the characterization made this novel a bit unwieldy. The dialogue tends toward fantasy-formal, which makes interactions clunky, especially with the royals. There’s a feeling that the characters were chosen to fit a YA mold – six girls from different backgrounds all coming together to fight a common enemy – rather than built up to be independently characterized and strong characters in their own rights. This book has all the pieces of a female-empowerment, rage against the zombie machine vibe, but for me it falls flat. There’s the main princess, the little princess, the other noble girl, the commoner that hates the nobility but gets over it, the commoner whose name I don’t remember because she doesn’t do anything, and the knight that’s secretly a girl. It’s cool that they’re all girls, but less cool when it never matters at all. They could be girls, boys, or Ken dolls for all that it matters. And, yeah, there’s something to be said about people just asking what your pronouns are and being totally chill about it. It’s a casual equality that I can get behind. But there’s that, and then there’s also these blank characters who could have some very interesting backstories because they’re female. How did the knight hide her identity through her training? Is she having a hard time adjusting to presenting as a girl again? What about these non-royal girls? What’s it like shifting gears from commoner-ing to slaughtering zombies wholesale? I am ALL for equality. But what’s the point of these characters being girls if they could be boys and absolutely nothing would change? Even the princess was taught sword fighting, so she’s already set for the zombie apocalypse. That could even be an interesting plot point, if they had to fight against gender norms AND zombies. But there’s none of that here.
I think my biggest issue after reading Book I of this trilogy is how little curiosity I have about what happens next. The six protagonists are all together in their little band of girl-heroes, struggling to find somewhere safe. But that’s where their struggle ends. There’s no internal struggle for any of them, which leads back toward my issues with characterization. Their only drive is survival, which is a noble goal, of course, it just doesn’t make for especially entertaining reading. Except for the zombies, there’s no drama. A character gets bitten and I think it’s supposed to be sad, but we just met the guy and I don’t know him well enough to feel especially deeply about his death. There are some hints about some black magic and the knight, but there’s no curiosity, no distrust, none of that drama that feeds my reader’s soul. They don’t seem to care where the zombies came from, and why, and so I have no choice but to share their apathy. I trust that they’ll all find their happily ever after in one piece, but I doubt that I’ll be joining them on their journey.