Most zombie stories have more to do with braaaaains than heart, but Isaac Marion’s Warm Bodies is different—quirky, poetic by spells, and lovely.
R has been shambling around as a zombie for an indeterminate amount of time—not that it matters how long since little matters to the undead. One day, R devours the brains of a young man named Perry and gets full memories, more powerful than any he’s experienced before during the course of devouring brains—including memories of the lovely Julie. R makes the decision to save Julie from the ambush, protect her, and eventually love her, bringing flickers of life and color to his world. The process doesn’t just change R, though, and changes start rippling outward and affecting other zombies, starting something bigger than he could have anticipated.
This is easily the most optimistic zombie story I have encountered. Whereas The Walking Dead has the human characters realizing they are walking dead themselves, and Feed shows that the worst of humanity has persisted in the face of a zombie apocalypse, Warm Bodies shows a world gone to hell but capable of changing for the better. The redemptive power of love is a cliché in so many other settings, but here, it somehow works.
The writing in Warm Bodies is well done, with a quirky tone that alternates between profundity and droll humor. R is a zombie who thinks about things beyond his next meal, and while articulating those thoughts is difficult, readers get to see his rich inner landscape. Here is a zombie who makes his home in a 747 plane, prefers vinyl records to iPods (“More real. More…alive”), and gets genuinely hurt when Julie implies that zombies like him aren’t human (“She is Living and I’m Dead, but I’d like to believe we’re both human. Call me an idealist”).
Readers wary of the gore of a zombie novel should give Warm Bodies a try. While there is some munching of brains (it is a zombie novel, after all), those sections are not bogged down in gore and in fact taper off over the course of the novel. It is an original take on a popular genre, and it looks like Marion is working on a sequel this year for those intrigued by the world he’s created.