Thursday, November 1, 2007

Book Review: Dying to Live by Kim Paffenroth

Dying to Live is a different type of zombie novel, one that takes a more humanitarian and philosophical approach to the popular zombie genre. Though there are some brutal gore scenes described in the book, author Kim Paffenroth focuses more on the interactions between people than the zombies. This different perspective in a zombie novel is wholeheartedly welcomed and is very refreshing.

After an apocalypse that has destroyed the world’s population and turned most people into the living dead, Jonah Caine continues to wander alone as he struggles to come to terms with what has happened. He kills the occasional zombie when he has to, but for the most part tries to avoid them. He comes to believe he is the only survivor until he finds a group of living people holed up in a museum. Among them are two leaders – Jack, the logical and practical military man, and Milton, a kind of spiritual leader to the people who has a special power over the undead. Jonah is welcomed into the community but also asked to prove his worth as the group tries to rebuild a civilization with what little they have left. Soon, though, they come to discover that they aren’t the only survivors and zombies, when compared with the brutality of mankind, may be the least of their worries.

From the first page of Dying to Live, I knew this was going to be an excellent book. Author Kim Paffenroth writes intelligently and immediately engages you in the story. Even though the book is very intellectually engaging and asks you to (gasp!) think, it doesn’t suffer any slow spots. The action keeps moving at a fast clip, whether it’s Jonah fighting off zombies, the community coming together to rebuild and share their experiences, a raid for supplies in the zombie-infested city, a daring rescue of a baby and her father, or the ugly side of the human condition, there is never a dull moment in Dying to Live.

The characters themselves are exquisitely developed and it is truly heartbreaking to watch them go through some of their hardships. The last few chapters are very hard to read because of the cruelty and brutality that is inflicted on some the characters. The character of Jonah, along with others, feels very realistic. It seems that in a post-apocalyptic world, people would really act, talk and think like the characters in Dying to Live. After their families, friends and acquaintances have died and returned as flesh-eating ghouls (whom they have had to kill), it seems that some very profound thinking is bound to take place! The interactions between characters feels very accurate as well, with Jonah even falling in love with one of the fellow survivors.

Author Kim Paffenroth is also a professor of religious studies, and it definitely shows in the novel. He makes reference to Dante’s Inferno, Nietzsche, The Bible, Paradise Lost and a dozen other philosophies. Don’t misunderstand and think this novel is at all preachy or stuffy…it is most definitely not. Paffenroth writes in a very accessible way that’ll make you think as well as squirm.

Critics and other authors are spot-on when they call Kim Paffenroth’s Dying to Live a “thinking man’s” novel. This is a zombie novel with plenty of heart, guts and brains (mmmmmm…brains) to satisfy any horror fan that’s looking for a more intellectually stimulating book. Dying to Live is highly recommended reading.

Buy Dying to Live!

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