Thursday, December 4, 2008

Book Review: Dying to Live - Life Sentence by Kim Paffenroth

Poignant zombie novels that really make you think are hard to come by. Most z-books focus on zombie attacks, blood, bodies being ripped limb from limb, blowing stuff up and so on. If any emotion is involved it is usually the gruff and macho kind that lasts only for a few sentences. Not to say that there’s anything wrong with those books. Lord knows I love a violently visceral zombie book as much as the next girl, but it’s nice to come upon a book that has brains as well as zombies!

Dying to Live: Life Sentence is Kim Paffenroth’s second novel in the Dying to Live series. While Dying to Live took place during the immediate fall out from the zombie apocalypse, Life Sentence takes place 12 years later where people, both alive and undead, have begun adjusting to their tough new world. Chapters switch back and forth between the story of Zoey, a child raised in the post-apocalyptic world going through the rites and rituals to become a full-fledged member of her community, and the story of Truman and Lucy, two smart zombies who can understand humans, read, play musical instruments and don’t randomly attack humans. As both Zoey and the zombies grow within their new roles, their paths and fates become intertwined.

The smart zombie storyline was intensely interesting and I kind of wish the whole novel had been focused solely on Truman and Lucy. I loved how they learned things and were able to read and even play the violin! It brought a whole new human element to the zombies and really made you think, just what if zombies had feelings and emotions and memories? The characters of Truman and Lucy had so much dimension and depth that truthfully I liked them more than some of their human counterparts!

Then of course was Zoey, who really grew on me as the book progressed. Though only twelve, she behaved like a well-trained soldier. She was born after the zombie apocalypse (or pretty much smack dab in the middle of it) so she never got to experience the luxuries of the old world, like ice cream and television, many of her elders talked about. Also, she never really got to experience childhood. In a way, she is almost like the zombies because she was robbed of a normal life (or normal death in their case). The parallels Paffenroth draws between her and the zombies elevate the novel into something much more intelligent than the standard zombie gorefest.

Besides the intriguing new characters, Paffenroth peppers the book with characters from Dying to Live, including Milton, Jack, Will and so on. Despite the many returning characters, the nice thing about Life Sentence is that you don’t have to read the first book to comprehend what is going on (though reading the first book helps you understand how much the survivors have gone through and gives you a deeper understanding of each returning character).

The book has a few grisly scenes, but its focus really isn’t on the gore but on characters’ interactions with the world around them. There are quite a few exciting stand-offs between zombies and/or other survivors and even a scary attack on Zoey and other women by a group of bandits that more than make up for the lack of viscera.

Dying to Live: Life Sentence is a satisfying read that you won’t be able to put down! Despite a few typos and the misuse of the word ‘til, I really have no complaints. Kim Paffenroth’s writing transports you to the desolate corner of the world where the book is set and really challenges you to contemplate more deeply on humanity. The message of hope is hard to miss here, but in a predictable pool of zombie novels that think gore is enough to entertain, Dying to Live: Life Sentence’s poignancy is more than welcome.

Available from Amazon!

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